Oscillatory brain activity during acute exercise: Tonic and transient neural response to an oddball task


Intense physical exercise exerts measurable changes at various physiological levels that are well documented in the literature. However, despite the key role of the brain in processing inputs from internal organ systems and the external environment to coordinate and optimize behavior, little is known about brain dynamics during exercise. The present study investigates tonic and transient oscillatory brain activity in a group of participants performing an oddball task during a single bout of aerobic exercise. Twenty young males (19–32 years) were recruited for two experimental sessions on separate days. EEG activity was recorded during a session of cycling at 80% (moderate‐to‐high intensity) of VO2max (maximum rate of oxygen consumption) while participants responded to infrequent targets (red square and big blue circle) presented among frequent nontargets (small blue circle). This was compared to a (baseline) light intensity session (30% VO2max) to control any potential effect of dual tasking (i.e., pedaling and performing the oddball task). A cluster‐based nonparametric permutations test revealed an increase in power across the entire frequency spectrum during the moderate‐to‐high intensity exercise compared to light intensity. Furthermore, the more salient target (red square) elicited a lower increase in (stimulus‐evoked) theta power in the 80% VO2max than in the light intensity condition. Alpha and lower beta power decreased less in the standard trials (small blue circle) during the moderate‐to‐high exercise condition than in the light exercise condition. The present study unveils, for the first time, a complex brain activity pattern during vigorous exercise while attending to task‐relevant stimuli.

Keywords: Brain, EEG