Author Identifier

ORCID: 0000-0002-4470-6609

Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Master of Science (Sports Science)


School of Medical and Health Sciences

First Supervisor

Professor Kazunori Nosaka

Second Supervisor

Benjamin Kan


Many studies have reported the relationship between exercise and cognition with conflicting results. This may be due to differences in intervention durations, session lengths, intensities, and type of exercise. It has been suggested that exercises requiring greater cognitive demand such as football, basketball and racquet sports, are protective against cognitive decline, compared to less cognitively demanding exercises such as swimming, cycling and running, however, research concerning exercise types are currently limited. The present study tested the hypothesis that elderly individuals who had been regularly playing tennis more than 10 years, would have greater cognitive function than those who had been performing walking, swimming and running.

Twenty tennis players, and 23 closed-skilled exercisers (walkers, swimmers or runners) were recruited. Individuals who were healthy but not involved in any structured or purposeful exercise served as the control group (n = 19). All participants were aged between 62 and 75 years old. Participants in the tennis group had been playing tennis at least twice per week for 10 years, and the closed-skilled exercisers had been walking, swimming or running at least twice a week for 2 years. Participants in all the three groups were closely matched for gender, education (13.6 ± 3.0 y), BMI (27.8 ± 4.3), social network diversity, cognitive activity, depression, total physical activity energy expenditure (4285.4 ± 2723.4 kcal), and physical function. Global cognitive function was determined by the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA). The cognitive function of inhibition function was assessed by a modified Flanker test, and the cognitive functions of processing speed (simple reaction and choice reaction time), working memory, and learning and memory were assessed by a computer-based Cogstate test (CogState Ltd, Melbourne, VIC, Australia). Physical function was measured by a modified version of the senior physical fitness tests including chair sit and reach, 8-ft up and go, grip iv strength, chair stand and the 6-minute walk tests. These variables were compared between the groups by one-way ANOVAs followed by Tukey’s post-hoc tests.

The tennis group had faster (P<0.05) simple (323.3 ± 44.3 ms) and choice reaction time (518.3 ± 60.6 ms) compared to the closed-skilled group (391.1 ± 75.4 ms, 578.6 ± 69.6 ms). There were no significant differences between the groups for other cognitive variables including the MoCA test score (tennis: 23.7 ± 1.9, closed-skill: 25.4 ± 3.6, control: 26.7 ± 2.3). No significant differences in any of the physical function tests were found between the three groups. However, the 6-minute walk test distance was weakly correlated (rs = .274, P<0.05) with working memory for all participants combined.

The present study confirmed previous study findings that elderly tennis players had faster processing speeds as represented by faster reaction times. This may be explained by the demand in tennis to respond to unpredictable stimuli within a dynamic and externally-paced environment. However, results did not support the hypothesis that tennis players would have greater executive function and memory performance. Compared with the normal reference values of the MoCA and Cogstate tests for the same age groups, the cognitive performance of the participants in the present study was better. It may be that the tests used in the study were not sensitive enough to detect possible differences in cognitive function between groups. However, it is possible that the influence of exercise choice (e.g. tennis vs closed-skilled) on the cognitive functions is small for older adults who are physically active and relatively fit. Further study is necessary to increase the number of participants in each group, and include more detailed investigation of the daily activities (e.g., reading, playing the music instrument) other than the exercise activities that the present study focused on (i.e., tennis, walking, running, swimming). It is also interesting to investigate the effects of the level of tennis (e.g., social vs competitive) on cognitive function.