Mild exercise improves executive function with increasing neural efficiency in the prefrontal cortex of older adults

Kyeongho Byun, Kazuki Hyodo, Kazuya Suwabe, Takemune Fukuie, Min seong Ha, Chorphaka Damrongthai, Ryuta Kuwamizu, Hikaru Koizumi, Michael A. Yassa, Hideaki Soya

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


This study examined whether a 3-month mild-exercise intervention could improve executive function in healthy middle-aged and older adults in a randomized control trial. Ultimately, a total of 81 middle-aged and older adults were randomly assigned to either an exercise group or a control group. The exercise group received 3 months of mild cycle exercise intervention (3 sessions/week, 30–50 min/session). The control group was asked to behave as usual for the intervention period. Before and after the intervention, participants did color-word matching Stroop tasks (CWST), and Stroop interference (SI)-related reaction time (RT) was assessed as an indicator of executive function. During the CWST, prefrontal activation was monitored using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). SI-related oxy-Hb changes and SI-related neural efficiency (NE) scores were assessed to examine the underlying neural mechanism of the exercise intervention. Although the mild-exercise intervention significantly decreased SI-related RT, there were no significant effects of exercise intervention on SI-related oxy-Hb changes or SI-related NE scores in prefrontal subregions. Lastly, changes in the effects of mild exercise on NE with advancing age were examined. The 81 participants were divided into two subgroups (younger-aged subgroup [YA], older-aged subgroup [OA], based on median age [68 years.]). Interestingly, SI-related RT significantly decreased, and SI-related NE scores in all ROIs of the prefrontal cortex significantly increased only in the OA subgroup. These results reveal that a long-term intervention of very light-intensity exercise has a positive effect on executive function especially in older adults, possibly by increasing neural efficiency in the prefrontal cortex.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)309-325
Number of pages17
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2024


  • Executive function
  • Functional near-infrared spectroscopy
  • Mild-exercise intervention
  • Neural efficiency
  • Prefrontal cortex


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