Several approaches have been taken to evaluate the effects of physical and mental training interventions on the mental abilities of older adults. A selective review of theory-based research suggests that older adults’ mental functioning may improve following both forms of training; however, the mechanisms that underlie these changes are not well understood. Several multidisciplinary approaches are evaluated that may help to explain how both exercise and mental training interventions may modify or offset age-related declines in mental abilities.
Phillip D. Tomporowski
Phillip D. Tomporowski and Michel Audiffren
Thirty-one young (mean age = 20.8 years) and 30 older (mean age = 71.5 years) men and women categorized as physically active (n = 30) or inactive (n = 31) performed an executive processing task while standing, treadmill walking at a preferred pace, and treadmill walking at a faster pace. Dual-task interference was predicted to negatively impact older adults’ cognitive flexibility as measured by an auditory switch task more than younger adults; further, participants’ level of physical activity was predicted to mitigate the relation. For older adults, treadmill walking was accompanied by significantly more rapid response times and reductions in local- and mixed-switch costs. A speed-accuracy tradeoff was observed in which response errors increased linearly as walking speed increased, suggesting that locomotion under dual-task conditions degrades the quality of older adults’ cognitive flexibility. Participants’ level of physical activity did not influence cognitive test performance.
Phillip D. Tomporowski and Daniel M. Pendleton
The role of acute bouts of exercise on young adults’ psychomotor learning was assessed in two experiments. In Experiment 1, 10 min of exercise performed immediately following pursuit-rotor training improved retention of tracking movements, but only when measured 7 days following encoding and only under exercise conditions that required complex decisions. In Experiment 2, 10 min of exercise performed immediately prior to encoding resulted in a retention pattern similar to that seen in Experiment 1; however, performance did not differ significantly between exercise and control groups. In both experiments, retention of motor movement was greater when measured 24 hr and 7 days after training, as opposed to immediately following encoding. The mnemonic benefits of moderately vigorous complex physical activity appear to assist a motor memory trace to transform from a fragile to a more persistent state.