In exercise and cognition research, few studies have investigated whether and how the qualitative aspects of physical exercise may impact cognitive performance in the short or long term. This commentary, after recalling the evidence on the “dose-response” relationship, shifts the focus to intersections between different research areas that are proposed to shed light on how qualitative exercise characteristics can be used to obtain cognitive benefits. As concerns the acute exercise area, this commentary highlights the applied relevance of developmental and aging studies investigating the effects of exercise bouts differing in movement task complexity and cognitive demands. As regards the chronic exercise area, potential links to research on cognitive expertise in sport, functional ability in aging, and life skills training during development are discussed. “Gross-motor cognitive training” is proposed as a key concept with relevant implications for intervention strategies in childhood and older adulthood.
Caterina Pesce and Michel Audiffren
This study investigated the effects of acute exercise on 53 young (16–24 years) and 47 older (65–74 years) adults’ switch-task performance. Participants practiced sports requiring either low or high cognitive demands. Both at rest and during aerobic exercise, the participants performed two reaction time tasks that differed in the amount of executive control involved in switching between global and local target features of visual compound stimuli. Switch costs were computed as reaction time differences between switch and nonswitch trials. In the low demanding task, switch costs were sensitive only to age, whereas in the high demanding task, they were sensitive to acute exercise, age, and sport-related cognitive expertise. The results suggest that acute exercise enhances cognitive flexibility and facilitates complex switch-task performance. Both young age and habitual practice of cognitively challenging sports are associated with smaller switch costs, but neither age nor cognitive expertise seem to moderate the relationship between acute exercise and switch-task performance.
Caterina Pesce, Lucio Cereatti, Rita Casella, Carlo Baldari and Laura Capranica
This study investigated the visual attention of older expert orienteers and older adults not practicing activities with high attentional and psychomotor demands, and considered whether prolonged practice of orienteering may counteract the age-related deterioration of visual attentional performance both at rest and under acute exercise. In two discriminative reaction time experiments, performed both at rest and under submaximal physical workload, visual attention was cued by means of spatial cues of different sizes followed, at different stimulus-onset asynchronies, by compound stimuli with local and global target features. Orienteers, as compared to nonathletes, showed a faster reaction speed and a complex pattern of attentional differences depending on the time constraints of the attentional task, the demands on endogenous attentional control, and the presence or absence of a concomitant effortful motor task. Results suggest that older expert orienteers have developed attentional skills that outweigh, at least at rest, the age-related deficits of visual attentional focusing.
Caterina Pesce, Ilaria Masci, Rosalba Marchetti, Giuseppe Vannozzi and Mirko Schmidt
This study examined the (mis)match between children’s perceived and actual motor skill competence, the role played by sport practice and gender when children under- or overestimate their motor competence, and the biomechanical correlates of perceived competence and perceived–actual competence (mis)match. Ninety children aged 7.5±1.2 years performed the Tests of Gross Motor Development-2 (TGMD-2), with a subsample of 44 children wearing inertial sensor devices for objective measurement of running and throwing, and completed the Pictorial Scale of Perceived Movement Skill Competence. Scores of perceived locomotor and object control competence were regressed on TGMD data. Underestimators (UE), realists (R), and overestimators (OE) were identified and it was assessed whether they differed in gender, amount of sport practice, and selected biomechanical parameters. Differences emerged with respect to gender, with most girls underestimating and most boys overestimating their object control competence, and with respect to sport participation, with OE of locomotor competence practicing a larger amount of sport than UE. Some kinematic parameters were associated with perceived competence without differences between UE, R, and OE. Results suggest: (a) the need for specific motivation strategies to ensure a skill-appropriate enhancement of perceived competence in girls; (b) the relevance of feeling skilled for sport practice; (c) the added value of biomechanical assessment to further our understanding of perceived motor competence.
Caterina Pesce, Alessandro Donati, Luciana Magrì, Lucio Cereatti, Michelangelo Giampietro, Carla Monacelli and Arnaldo Zelli
The use of ergogenic aids is common in sport, even among preadolescent athletes (8,15,25). The aim of this study was to investigate the relationship between preadolescents’ use of nutritional ergogenic aids (creatine and amino acids) and gender, age, athletic participation, and sport-relevant psychological factors (i.e., sport success motivation, task and ego orientation, self-efficacy). Two thousand four hundred fifty 11- to 13-year-old children participated in this study. Results suggest that substance use increases with age, especially among male preadolescents; that gender differences are particularly marked among older preadolescents; and that a high commitment to sport training represents a risk factor of ergogenic supplementation only when it is linked to certain psychological dispositions, such as a high ego orientation and a low task orientation.
Simone Ciaccioni, Laura Capranica, Roberta Forte, Helmi Chaabene, Caterina Pesce and Giancarlo Condello
This study aimed to investigate the effects of a 4-month judo training (1 hr session, biweekly) on physical and mental health of older adults (69.7 ± 4.2 years). Participants (N = 30) were assigned to a judo novice practitioners group (n = 16) or a control group (n = 14), which did not receive any training. Before and after the program, they underwent anthropometric (body mass index and waist and hip circumferences); functional fitness (upper and lower body flexibility and strength, coordination); and psychological assessments (perceived physical and mental health, body image, and fear of falling). The judo group showed reductions of waist circumference (Δ = −1%, d = 0.2) and improvements for lower and upper body flexibility (Δ = +69%, d = 0.4 and Δ = +126%, d = 0.5, respectively) and strength (Δ = +12%, d = 0.6 and Δ = +31%, d = 1.6, respectively). The control group showed a decline in lower body strength (Δ = −12%, d = 0.8). Psychological variables did not reveal statistically significant effects. Judo seems beneficial for improving anthropometric and functional fitness variables, relevant aspects of successful aging.