Effect of sitting on an exercise ball on cognitive function

October 14, 2015 / By: Goding, A., Duoos, B.

Background/Purpose: Long-term aerobic exercise enhances overall memory and executive function.  Exercise enlarges and increases plasticity of the hippocampus allowing for increased neural activity and improved memory (Ratey, 2008; Erickson, 2010). While the positive effects of an active lifestyle on the brain are recognized, the immediate influence of low intensity long-endurance (LI-LE) exercise on the memory of an individual are less clear.  LI-LE exercise such as sitting on stability balls improves on-task behaviors and comprehension rates in kindergarten classrooms (Bill, 2008; Fulk, 2012).  However, college students have not been as extensively tested to determine the connection between exercise and cognitive function.  The goal of this study was to investigate the relationship between LI-LE exercise and cognitive function in college students through the use of stability balls.  It was hypothesized participants sitting on stability balls would score higher on the memory tests than students sitting in chairs.

Methods: Twenty-three female college students (age, yrs: 20.82 ± 0.89; ht.cm, 164.44 ± 6.8; wt, kg: 62.26 ± 6.8) were randomly assigned to either sit on an exercise ball (experimental group) or sit on a chair (control group) during a 65-minute lecture.  Immediately after class, six ImPACTTM testing modules were used to evaluate cognitive function.  Data was analyzed at the 0.05 level using a two-tailed t-test in Minitab16.

Results: Reaction time speed between experimental and control groups approached significance (p= 0.058) with the experimental group demonstrating faster reaction times.  No statistical significance was found for verbal memory (p= 0.400), visual memory (p= 0.369), cognitive efficiency index (p=0.237), visual motor speed (p= 0.104) or impulse control (p=0.243).

Conclusions:  There is a trend towards an immediate improvement in reaction time with LI-LE in female college students.    No improvements in other measures of cognitive function tested were demonstrated.  Further research could evaluate the effects of low intensity exercise on cognitive function in a classroom over the course of an entire term.  Incorporating pre- and post- test assessments would allow for quantification of cognitive gains as well as a measure of improvement in ImPACTTM scores.