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Jennifer L. Etnier

In developing a senior lecture for the 2014 national meeting of the North American Society for the Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity, I had the opportunity to reflect upon a career of research and to focus on three interesting questions that my colleagues and I have attempted to address. These questions have led to several studies that all revolve around identifying ways to increase the effects of exercise on cognitive performance. In particular, the questions examine the possibility of increasing effects by focusing on particular populations (e.g., older adults, children) and by increasing our understanding of dose-response relationships between exercise parameters (e.g., intensity, duration) and cognitive outcomes. I present empirical evidence relative to each of these questions and provide directions for future research on physical activity and cognitive functioning.

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Jennifer L. Etnier

Alzheimer's disease is a chronic illness characterized by clinical cognitive impairment. A behavioral strategy that is being explored in the prevention of Alzheimer's disease is physical activity. Evidence from randomized controlled trials (RCTs) testing the effects of physical activity for cognitively normal older adults supports that physical activity benefits cognitive performance. Evidence from prospective studies supports a protective effect of physical activity with reductions in the risk of cognitive decline ranging from 28% to 45%. RCTs with cognitively impaired older adults also generally support positive effects with greater benefits evident for aerobic interventions. Research examining the potential moderating role of apolipoprotein E (APOE) has yielded mixed results, but the majority of the studies support that physical activity most benefits those who are at greatest genetic risk of Alzheimer's disease. Future directions for research are considered with an emphasis on the need for additional funding to support this promising area of research.

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Jennifer Gapin and Jennifer L. Etnier

Children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD) consistently perform worse on executive function (EF) tasks relative to those without AD/HD. Physical activity has a small effect on cognition in children and may be particularly beneficial for children with AD/HD by impacting fundamental EF deficiencies that characterize this disorder. The purpose of this study was to explore the extent to which physical activity is associated with EF in children with AD/HD. Eighteen boys (M age = 10.61, SD = 1.50) with AD/HD were recruited to complete four EF tasks. Physical activity was measured with an accelerometer that provided daily minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity; this measure was a significant predictor of performance on the Tower of London planning task, adjusted R 2 = .28, F(1, 16) = 7.61, p < .05, and was positively associated with other EF measures. These results suggest that higher physical activity is associated with better EF performance in AD/HD children.

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Victoria Kjos and Jennifer L. Etnier

Identifying alternative exercise modalities in an effort to stimulate and promote participation in physical activity, especially among older adults, is a critical health consideration. The purpose of this study was to compare physiological and psychological responses to medical qigong with self-paced brisk walking. Older women (55–79 years) performed 22 min of either qigong or walking on two separate days. During exercise performance, heart rate and ratings of perceived exertion were assessed. Psychological affect, blood pressure, and pulse rate were assessed before and after the exercise bouts. Heart-rate data indicated that both forms of exercise were at a moderate level of intensity. In addition, similar values were found for the physiological and psychological variables as a function of the two forms of exercise. Therefore, it was concluded that this form of medical qigong can be considered a moderate-intensity physical activity that should have both physiological and psychological benefits for older women.

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SeYun Park and Jennifer L. Etnier

Background: Evidence supports that a single session of exercise has benefits for cognitive performance following exercise. Although the vast majority of research has been conducted with young adults, very few studies to date have tested these effects in adolescents (high school aged students). As executive function (EF) develops through late adolescence and into young adulthood, it is important to assess the extent to which acute exercise benefits EF in adolescents. The primary purpose of this study was to assess the effect of moderate-intensity acute exercise on subsequent EF performance in this population. Methods: Healthy high school students (N = 22; age: 15.90 [0.29] y) volunteered to participate in the study. Using a within-subjects design with order of conditions randomized and counterbalanced, participants performed the Stroop Test, the Symbol Digit Modalities Test, and the Tower of London Test following control and following exercise with sessions performed on different days. Results: Exercise resulted in significant benefits for Stroop Color, Stroop Color-Word tests, Symbol Digit Modalities Test, Tower of London total moves, and Tower of London total excess moves. Conclusions: These results provide an important extension to the literature by confirming that 20 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise benefits EF performance in high school students.

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Jennifer L. Etnier and Daniel M. Landers

The primary purpose of this study was to examine differences in performance on fluid and crystallized intelligence tasks as a function of age and fitness. A secondary purpose was to examine the influence of age and fitness on the beneficial effects that practice has on both performance and retention on these tasks. Fitness was assessed in 41 older and 42 younger participants who were then randomly assigned to either experimental or control conditions. Participants performed repeated trials on two cognitive tasks during acquisition and retention, with the experimental group practicing for 100 trials and the control group practicing for 20 trials. Older participants performed better than younger participants on the crystallized intelligence task: however, younger participants performed better than older participants on the fluid intelligence task. On the fluid intelligence task, older fit participants performed better than older unfit participants. Learning did occur on the fluid task and differed as a function of age and fitness. Learning did not occur on the crystallized task.

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Benjamin A. Sibley and Jennifer L. Etnier

The purpose of this study was to quantitatively combine and examine the results of studies pertaining to physical activity and cognition in children. Studies meeting the inclusion criteria were coded based on design and descriptive characteristics, subject characteristics, activity characteristics, and cognitive assessment method. Effect sizes (ESs) were calculated for each study and an overall ES and average ESs relative to moderator variables were then calculated. ESs (n = 125) from 44 studies were included in the analysis. The overall ES was 0.32 (SD = 0.27), which was significantly different from zero. Significant moderator variables included publication status, subject age, and type of cognitive assessment. As a result of this statistical review of the literature, it is concluded that there is a significant positive relationship between physical activity and cognitive functioning in children.

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Jennifer L. Etnier and Daniel M. Landers

Despite evidence that mental practice (MP) improves performance (Feltz & Landers, 1983), the parameters that define the MP period have not been systematically examined. The purpose of this study was to examine the influence of the order of presentation of MP and physical practice (PP) and of the duration of MP on subsequent performance. Subjects (N = 153) were randomly assigned to 1 of 9 groups that consisted of a control group (3-min PP) and 8 groups composed of either 1-, 3-, 5-, or 7-min MP, with 3-min PP. 4 of these groups performed MP first and the other 4 performed PP first. Subjects performed a 3-min basketball shooting task for Trial 1, practiced, performed Trial 2, practiced, and performed Trial 3. Results indicated that the order of presentation of MP and PP significantly impacted performance, such that groups who received MP first improved more than did PP-first groups. The duration of the MP period also impacted performance, such that groups who received 1 min or 3 min of MP improved more than the control group or groups who received 5 min or 7 min of MP.