The effects of regular physical activity on the cognitive processing of elderly adults

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Thompson, Sandra N.
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This study investigated the effects of regular aerobic activity on the cognitive ability of elderly adults. A sample of 24 elderly adults involved in a regular exercise program for two years constituted the high active group. The control or low active group consisted of 19 elderly adults who are socially active. Participants from each group were assessed for fitness level, activity level as well as various cognitive tests. These tests included the fact and source memory recall test, Verbal Fluency, the Stroop Test, the Wisconsin Card Sorting Task, Trail Making, Mill Hill Vocabulary test, and a test of metamemory self-efficacy. Past research on the effects of aerobic fitness on cognitive functioning has been inconclusive, with contributing factors consisting of problems with sample size, cognitive tasks chosen, study designs, and equating groups on general activity and self efficacy. A series of multivariate analyses of covariance, with age as the covariate, determined that general memory functioning as indicated by fact recall and vocabulary scores, and metamemory measures of self efficacy were equal for both groups. Activity level, other than physical, and scores on interference-sensitive measures of frontal lobe functioning, with the possible exception of the Wisconsin Card Sorting Task, were also equivalent for both groups. The inconsistency of performance on these tasks leads to a possible dissociation of such frontal lobe measures which will be discussed in this paper. As well, possible neurological explanations are examined to account for such results. From these results, it seems that the role of fitness on cognitive ability may have been overemphasized in past research. Perhaps, general activity, including cognitive and social activity, is of greater important in maintaining cognitive functioning in healthy community dwelling elderly adults.