Sex moderates the associations between physical activity intensity and attentional control in older adolescents

Publication Name

Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports


Introduction: The relationship between physical activity (PA) intensity and executive functions in older adolescents remains poorly understood. This study aimed to examine the associations between PA intensity, volume, attentional control, and working memory and the moderating effects of sex in older adolescents. Method: We analyzed baseline data from 418 participants (211 females, Mage = 16.5 ± 0.40 years) from the Burn 2 Learn trial. Adolescents wore GT9X Link accelerometers on a non-dominant wrist for 7 days, 24-h·d−1. PA intensity was expressed as intensity gradient (IG) and moderate-to-vigorous PA (MVPA, Hildebrand cut-points); PA volume was expressed as average acceleration (AvACC). Attentional control was measured with a standard deviation (SDRT) and a coefficient of variation (CVRT) of the reaction time on the incongruent trials of a flanker task. Working memory was expressed as a d prime (a signal discrimination index) on the 2-back task. The moderating effects of sex on the PA-executive functions associations, adjusting for age, BMI z-score, and cardiorespiratory fitness, were tested using multilevel random intercept models. Results: After controlling for AvACC, sex moderated the relationships between IG and incongruent SDRT (B = 0.53, 95% CI: 0.12, 0.94) and CVRT (B = 0.63, 95% CI: 0.22, 1.05; ps ≤ 0.002). Only girls with higher IG showed smaller incongruent SDRT and CVRT (Bs ≤ −0.26, ps ≤ 0.01). IG was not related to working memory. AvACC and MVPA were not associated with attentional control or working memory. Conclusion: Our findings reveal a novel association between higher-intensity PA and superior attentional control among adolescent girls.

Open Access Status

This publication may be available as open access

Funding Number


Funding Sponsor

National Health and Medical Research Council



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