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Robert L. Wilkes and Jeffery J. Summers

The effectiveness of five types of cognitive preparation on strength performance was examined in a 2 X 5 (Pre- and Posttest × Mental Preparation Condition) design, with repeated measures on pre-posttest. The mental preparation conditions were: arousal, attention, imagery, self-efficacy, and a control read condition. Immediately following the posttest trials, subjects completed a questionnaire measuring various cognitive states. The results showed that preparatory arousal and self-efficacy techniques produced significantly greater posttest strength performance than the control group. Analysis of the postexperimental questionnaire data suggested that a general effect of the preparation strategies used was to focus attention on the task to be performed. It was concluded that the effectiveness of a particular cognitive strategy may depend on the nature of the task to be performed and the particular aspects of the task to which attention is directed.

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Phillip D. Tomporowski

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.

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Arthur D. Fisk and Wendy A. Rogers

Two important questions are addressed in this article. The first concerns whether performance of well-learned skills is maintained as individuals grow older. The second question concerns whether older adults are able to acquire new skills. The answer to both questions is “yes”; however, the acquisition rate and the final performance level for newly acquired skills is generally less for older adults than for younger adults. The article resolves an apparent puzzle of how it is that older adults are capable of successful performance of everyday activities, given noted declines in cognitive-ability-type tasks shown for performance in laboratory studies. A brief discussion of age-related training strategies to enhance skill learning is provided.

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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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Sandra A. Billinger, Eric D. Vidoni, Jill K. Morris, John P. Thyfault and Jeffrey M. Burns

Positive physiologic and cognitive responses to aerobic exercise have resulted in a proposed cardiorespiratory (CR) fitness hypothesis in which fitness gains drive changes leading to cognitive benefit. The purpose of this study was to directly assess the CR fitness hypothesis. Using data from an aerobic exercise trial, we examined individuals who completed cardiopulmonary and cognitive testing at baseline and 26 weeks. Change in cognitive test performance was not related to CR fitness change (r 2 = .06, p = .06). However, in the subset of individuals who gave excellent effort during exercise testing, change in cognitive test performance was related to CR fitness change (r 2 = .33, p < .01). This was largely due to change in the cognitive domain of attention (r 2 = .36, p < .01). The magnitude of change was not explained by duration of exercise. Our findings support further investigation of the CR fitness hypothesis and mechanisms by which physiologic adaptation may drive cognitive change.

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John R. Biggan, Forest Melton, Michael A. Horvat, Mark Ricard, David Keller and Christopher T. Ray

The understanding of prefrail and nonfrail older adults’ postural control with and without increased environmental and cognitive stress is imperative to the development of targeted interventions to decrease fall risk within these populations. Thirty-eight individuals participated in this study. Postural control testing included the Sensory Organization Test (SOT) on a NeuroCom EquiTest. Cognitive and environmental load testing was performed during Condition 6 of the SOT. Though there were no group differences on composite equilibrium score (p = .06), the cognitive task (Stroop task) impaired equilibrium scores more than the auditory or visual distracter tasks (p < .05 and p < .01) for both groups. These results suggest that both prefrail and nonfrail older adults’ postural control is reduced in demanding environments. Given these findings, the need for multimodal exercise interventions to target both physical and cognitive factors is apparent.

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Philip D. Tomporowski, Catherine L. Davis, Kate Lambourne, Mathew Gregoski and Joseph Tkacz

The short-term aftereffects of a bout of moderate aerobic exercise were hypothesized to facilitate children’s executive functioning as measured by a visual task-switching test. Sixty-nine children (mean age = 9.2 years) who were overweight and inactive performed a category-decision task before and immediately following a 23-min bout of treadmill walking and, on another session, before and following a nonexercise period. The acute bout of physical activity did not influence the children’s global switch cost scores or error rates. Age-related differences in global switch cost scores, but not error scores, were obtained. These results, in concert with several studies conducted with adults, fail to confirm that single bouts of moderately intense physical activity influence mental processes involved in task switching.

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Jamie L. Moul, Bert Goldman and Beverly Warren

The effect of exercise on cognitive performance in an older population was studied. Thirty sedentary men and women 65–72 years of age were randomly assigned to a walking group, a weight training group, or a placebo control group. Intervention groups exercised 30–60 min 5 days per week for 16 weeks, with the walking group training at 60% heart rate reserve, the weight training group employing the DAPRE method of weight progression, and the placebo control group engaging in mild range-of-motion and flexibility movements that kept their heart rates close to resting levels. At baseline and 16 weeks posttraining each subject completed the Ross Information Processing Assessment (RIPA), a maximal graded treadmill test, and a strength assessment of the knee extensors and elbow flexors. Sixteen weeks of walking improved VO2peak of the sedentary subjects 15.8%; VO2peak did not improve in the other two groups. Additionally, the RIPA scores of the walking group increased 7.5%, while those of the weight-training and control groups showed little change.

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A. Mark Williams, Joan Vickers and Sergio Rodrigues

Processing efficiency theory predicts that anxiety reduces the processing capacity of working memory and has detrimental effects on performance. When tasks place little demand on working memory, the negative effects of anxiety can be avoided by increasing effort. Although performance efficiency decreases, there is no change in performance effectiveness. When tasks impose a heavy demand on working memory, however, anxiety leads to decrements in efficiency and effectiveness. These presumptions were tested using a modified table tennis task that placed low (LWM) and high (HWM) demands on working memory. Cognitive anxiety was manipulated through a competitive ranking structure and prize money. Participants’ accuracy in hitting concentric circle targets in predetermined sequences was taken as a measure of performance effectiveness, while probe reaction time (PRT), perceived mental effort (RSME), visual search data, and arm kinematics were recorded as measures of efficiency. Anxiety had a negative effect on performance effectiveness in both LWM and HWM tasks. There was an increase in frequency of gaze and in PRT and RSME values in both tasks under high vs. low anxiety conditions, implying decrements in performance efficiency. However, participants spent more time tracking the ball in the HWM task and employed a shorter tau margin when anxious. Although anxiety impaired performance effectiveness and efficiency, decrements in efficiency were more pronounced in the HWM task than in the LWM task, providing support for processing efficiency theory.

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Jennifer L. Etnier, Benjamin A. Sibley, Jeremy Pomeroy and James C. Kao

Research suggests that there are differences in response time (RespT) as a function of age but that aerobic fitness might have a facilitatory effect on RespT. This study was designed to examine this relationship while addressing methodological issues from past research. Men from 3 age groups completed speeded tasks, a physical activity questionnaire, and an aerobic-fitness test. Results indicated that age has a negative impact on RespT (specifically premotor time and movement time). The interaction of aerobic fitness by age was also a significant predictor of RespT (specifically movement time) such that aerobic fitness was positively related to speed of performance for older participants. It is concluded that aerobic fitness might serve a preservative function for speeded tasks in older adults.