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OBM Integrative and Complementary Medicine

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Past research suggests that exercise is associated with improved working memory (WM) abilities, and that athletes have better executive functioning and WM skills than non-athletes. However, no studies to date have separated the effects of exercise from the effects of athletic participation when examining WM. This study had three primary goals: (1) to determine whether amateur college athletes have better auditory and visual WM than their non-athlete peers who exercise frequently and whether non-athlete frequent exercisers have better WM than non-athlete infrequent exercisers (2) to determine whether amateur participation in particular types of sports (team-based versus solo sports) corresponds to differences in auditory or visual WM, and (3) to examine whether gender plays a role in the relationships between exercise, athletic participation and WM. This study was a cross-sectional, correlational design that examined WM in men versus women college students

divided into four groups (team-sports athletes, solo-sports athletes, frequent exercisers, and infrequent exercisers). 153 college students completed five tests of auditory (Digit Span subtest, PASAT) and visual (Spatial Span subtest, N-Back, WCST) WM. Collegiate men who participated in team-based sports outperformed collegiate men who participated in solo-sports in auditory WM. The two non-athlete groups (frequent and infrequent exercisers) earned scores between those of the two athlete groups. Male infrequent exercisers demonstrated better visual WM than the other three male athlete/exerciser groups. In contrast, neither athletic participation nor exercise affected collegiate women’s WM abilities. Our results did not support our hypothesis that all types of student athletes would exhibit better WM than students who exercise regularly but do not engage in competitive sports. Additionally, our data did not indicate that frequent exercise is associated with stronger WM skills than infrequent exercise in non-athlete college students. Participation in team-based sports was associated with better auditory WM skills than participation in solo sports, but this was only true for male, not female, athletes. Thus, gender was an important factor in delineating the relationships between exercise, athletic participation and WM.


© 2020 by the authors. This article was originally published by OBM Integrative and Complementary Medicine under a Creative Commons by Attribution License, 4.0 in OBM Integrative and Complementary Medicine, 2020, Volume 5, Issue 1. DOI: 10.21926/obm.icm.2001002.