The effect of aerobic exercise on interoception and cognitive function in healthy university students: a non-randomized controlled trial

Author: Yusaku Amaya1,2, Tetsuya Abe3, Kenji Kanbara1,4, Hisaharu Shizuma1,5, Yasushi Akiyama1, Mikihiko Fukunaga1
Affiliation: <sup>1</sup> Department of Psychosomatic and General Internal Medicine, Kansai Medical University, 2-5-1 Shinmachi, Hirakata, Osaka, 573-1010, Japan. <sup>2</sup> Faculty of Rehabilitation, Shijonawate Gakuen University, Osaka, Japan. <sup>3</sup> Department of Psychosomatic and General Internal Medicine, Kansai Medical University, 2-5-1 Shinmachi, Hirakata, Osaka, 573-1010, Japan. <sup>4</sup> Psychosomatic Medicine, Clinical Psychology, Faculty of Medicine, Kagawa University, Kagawa, Japan. <sup>5</sup> Department of Education, Kyoto College of Medical and Health, Kyoto, Japan.
Conference/Journal: BMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil
Date published: 2021 Aug 28
Other: Volume ID: 13 , Issue ID: 1 , Pages: 99 , Special Notes: doi: 10.1186/s13102-021-00332-x. , Word Count: 349

Interoception refers to the body's physiological responses that occur in response to emotions. This phenomenon influences decision-making, an important cognitive ability that affects the maintenance of an exercise routine. However, it is controversial whether interoception is a reliable measure of an individual's traits or their response to emotion. Given this evidence, we hypothesized that performing an exercise with positive feelings could improve interoception and that the rational decision-making capabilities acquired by improved interoception would, in turn, help in maintaining an exercise routine. Persistent aerobic exercise is essential for improving cognitive and musculoskeletal function in the long term. Therefore, we aimed to investigate changes in interoception during moderate-intensity aerobic exercise at a level that might potentially improve cognitive function.

We devided 48 healthy university students into an exercise group (n = 37) and a control group (n = 11). The control group did not perform any exercises, while the exercise group performed bench step exercises at an intensity of 50% of heart rate reserve for 30 min a day, three times a week, for three months. We assessed their cognitive function by measuring their auditory information/working memory processing speed using a paced auditory serial addition task (PASAT) and evaluated their interoceptive accuracy (IA) using a heartbeat tracking task at baseline and 1, 2, and 3 months after the start of the exercise intervention.

There was a significant positive correlation between IA and PASAT scores at baseline. However, exercise did not lead to a significant increase in PASAT scores of the exercise group as compared with the control group. IA scores increased at 2 and 3 months after the start of exercise only in the exercise group.

This preliminary study showed an improvement in interoception after persistent moderate-intensity aerobic exercise. We believe that exercise-induced improvement of interoception may facilitate exercise maintenance through improved cognitive function. Statistical analysis did not explain the non-uniformity of sample sizes, therefore, future studies should have larger sample sizes with equal subjects in each group to allow for better comparability and generalizability.

Trial registration:
UMIN, UMIN000042891. 04/01/2021, retrospectively registered.

Keywords: Aerobic exercise; Cognitive function; Decision-making; Heartbeat tracking task; Interoception.

PMID: 34454595 DOI: 10.1186/s13102-021-00332-x