Does a Physically Active Lifestyle Attenuate Decline in All Cognitive Functions in Old Age?

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In this study, the performance of a group of 20 physically active older adults was compared with that of a group of 20 sedentary healthy older adults while performing a series of cognitive tasks. These tasks were designed to assess processes that deteriorate most with age, namely executive control (assessed with the Wisconsin Card Sorting Task) and processing speed (simple and choice reaction time tasks). A repetition priming task that does not decline with age, involving attended and unattended picture outlines at encoding, was also included as a control task. The results show that a physically active lifestyle has a positive influence on executive control, processing speed, and controlled processing. As expected, a physically active lifestyle did not enhance repetition priming for attended stimuli, nor did it produce priming for unattended stimuli at encoding. Both groups exhibited robust priming for attended stimuli and no priming for unattended ones. Executive control functions are of vital importance for independent living in old age. These results have practical implications for enhancing the cognitive processes that decline most in old age. Promoting a physically active lifestyle throughout adulthood could significantly reduce the decline of effortful executive control functions in old age.

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