Cognition in breast cancer survivors: A pilot study of interval and continuous exercise

Joseph M. Northey, Kate L. Pumpa, Clare Quinlan, Ashley Ikin, Kellie Toohey, Disa J. Smee, Ben Rattray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: The current study investigated the effects of two exercise interventions on cognitive function amongst breast cancer survivors. Design: Pilot randomised-controlled trial. Methods: Seventeen female cancer survivors (mean: 62.9 ± 7.8 years) were randomised into three groups: high-intensity interval training (HIIT, n = 6); moderate-intensity continuous training (MOD, n = 5); or wait-list control (CON, n = 6). The HIIT and MOD groups exercised on a cycle ergometer 3 days/week for 12-weeks. Primary outcomes were cognitive function assessments utilising CogState. Secondary outcomes were resting middle cerebral artery blood flow velocity, cerebrovascular reactivity and aerobic fitness (VO 2peak ). Data were analysed with General Linear Mixed Models and Cohen's d effect sizes were calculated. Results: All 17 participants who were randomised were available for follow-up analysis and adherence was similar for HIIT and MOD (78.7 ± 13.2% vs 79.4 ± 12.0%; p = 0.93). Although there were no significant differences in the cognitive and cerebrovascular outcomes, HIIT produced moderate to large positive effects in comparison to MOD and CON for outcomes including episodic memory, working memory, executive function, cerebral blood flow and cerebrovascular reactivity. HIIT significantly increased VO 2peak by 19.3% (d = 1.28) and MOD had a non-significant 5.6% (d = 0.72) increase, compared to CON which had a 2.6% decrease. Conclusions: This study provides preliminary evidence that HIIT may be an effective exercise intervention to improve cognitive performance, cerebrovascular function and aerobic fitness in breast cancer survivors. Considering the sample size is small, these results should be confirmed through larger clinical trials.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)580-585
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Science and Medicine in Sport
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2019
Externally publishedYes


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