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Arthur F. Kramer, Sowon Hahn, and Edward McAuley

The article provides a brief review of the literature on the relationship between aerobic Fitness and neurocognitive function, particularly as it relates to older adults. Cross-sectional studies provide strong support for the beneficial influence of fitness on neurocognitive function. The longitudinal or interventional literature, however, provides more equivocal support for this relationship. In discussing the literature, the authors introduce a new hypothesis, the executive control/fitness hypothesis, which suggests that selective neurocognitive benefits will be observed with improvements in aerobic fitness; that is, executive control processes that include planning, scheduling, task coordination, inhibition, and working memory will benefit from enhanced fitness. Preliminary evidence for this hypothesis is discussed.

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Laura Chaddock, Michelle W. Voss, and Arthur F. Kramer

Our increasingly inactive lifestyle is detrimental to physical and cognitive health. This review focuses on the beneficial relation of physical activity and aerobic fitness to the brain and cognitive health in a youth and elderly population to highlight the need to change this pattern. In children, increased physical activity and higher levels of aerobic fitness have been associated with superior academic achievement and cognitive processes. Differences in brain volumes and brain function of higher-fit and lower-fit peers are potential mechanisms underlying the performance differences in cognitive challenges. We hope that this research will encourage modifications in educational policies that will increase physical activity during the school day. In addition, older adults who participate in physical activity show higher performance on a variety of cognitive tasks, coupled with less risk of cognitive impairment. The cognitive enhancements are in part driven by less age-related brain tissue loss and increases in the efficiency of brain function. Given the increasing aging population and threat of dementia, research about the plasticity of the elderly active brain has important public health implications. Collectively, the data support that participation in physical activity could enhance daily functioning, learning, achievement, and brain health in children and the elderly.

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Lauren B. Raine, Mark R. Scudder, Brian J. Saliba, Arthur F. Kramer, and Charles Hillman

Background:

There is a growing trend of inactivity among children, which may not only result in poorer physical health but also poorer cognitive health. The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between aerobic fitness and proactive and reactive cognitive control using a continuous performance task (CPT).

Methods:

Forty-eight 9- to 10-year-old children (n = 24 higher fit [HF] and n = 24 lower fit [LF]) performed an AX-CPT requiring them to respond to target cue-probe pairs (AX) or nontarget pairs (AY, BX, BY) under 2 different trial duration conditions, which modulated working memory demands.

Results:

Across trials and conditions, HF children had greater accuracy than LF children. For target trials, the long duration resulted in lower accuracy than the short duration. For nontarget trials, an interaction of duration and trial was observed, indicating that the long duration resulted in decreased BX and BY accuracy relative to the short duration. AY trials had greater accuracy during the long duration compared with the short duration.

Conclusions:

These data suggest that fitness may modulate cognitive control strategies during tasks requiring context updating and maintenance, key components of working memory and further support aerobic fitness as a marker of cognitive and brain health in children.

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Thomas R. Wójcicki, Amanda N. Szabo, Siobhan M. White, Emily L. Mailey, Arthur F. Kramer, and Edward McAuley

Background:

The purpose of this study was to assess the extent to which participation in a 12-month exercise program changed the degree of importance that older adults attached to physical activity. In addition, associations among changes in physical activity importance and health-related and psychosocial outcomes were examined.

Methods:

Community-dwelling older adults (N = 179) were recruited to participate in a 12-month exercise trial examining the association between changes in physical activity and fitness with changes in brain structure and psychological health. Participants were randomly assigned to a walking condition or a flexibility, toning, and balance condition. Physical, psychological, and cognitive assessments were taken at months 0, 6, and 12.

Results:

Involvement in a 12-month exercise program increased the importance that participants placed on physical activity; this positive change was similar across exercise condition and sex. Changes in importance, however, were only associated with changes in physical health status and outcome expectations for exercise midway through the intervention. There were no significant associations at the end of the program.

Conclusions:

Regular participation in physical activity can positively influence the perceived importance of the behavior itself. Yet, the implications of such changes on physical activity-related outcomes remain equivocal and warrant further investigation.