Working memory, cognitive load and cardiorespiratory fitness: Testing the CRUNCH model with near-infrared spectroscopy


The present study aimed to examine the effects of chronological age and cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) on cognitive performance and prefrontal cortex activity, and to test the compensation-related utilization of neural circuits hypothesis (CRUNCH). A total of 19 young adults (18–22 years) and 37 older ones (60–77 years) with a high or low CRF level were recruited to perform a working memory updating task under three different cognitive load conditions. Prefrontal cortex hemodynamic responses were continuously recorded using functional near-infrared spectroscopy, and behavioral performances and perceived difficulty were measured. Results showed that chronological age had deleterious effects on both cognitive performance and prefrontal cortex activation under a higher cognitive load. In older adults, however, higher levels of CRF were related to increased bilateral prefrontal cortex activation patterns that allowed them to sustain better cognitive performances, especially under the highest cognitive load. These results are discussed in the light of the neurocognitive CRUNCH model.

Brain Sciences