Recent studies have reported enhanced visual responses during acute bouts of physical exercise, suggesting that sensory systems may become more sensitive during active exploration of the environment. This raises the possibility that exercise may also modulate brain activity associated with other cognitive functions, like visual working memory, that rely on patterns of activity that persist beyond the initial sensory evoked response. Here, we investigated whether the neural coding of an object location held in memory is modulated by an acute bout of aerobic exercise. Participants performed a spatial change detection task while seated on a stationary bike at rest and during low-intensity cycling (∼50 watts/50 RPM). Brain activity was measured with EEG. An inverted encoding modeling technique was employed to estimate location-selective channel response functions from topographical patterns of alpha-band (8–12 Hz) activity. There was strong evidence of robust spatially selective responses during stimulus presentation and retention periods both at rest and during exercise. During retention, the spatial selectivity of these responses decreased in the exercise condition relative to rest. A temporal generalization analysis indicated that models trained on one time period could be used to reconstruct the remembered locations at other time periods, providing evidence that a unitary code supports memory during both conditions. However, generalization was degraded during exercise. Together, these results demonstrate that it is possible to reconstruct the contents of working memory at rest and during exercise, but that exercise can result in degraded responses, which contrasts with the enhancements observed in early sensory processing.

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