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Exercise sharpens focus, decision-making among aging adults

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Aging adults who give up a sedentary lifestyle and replace it with a cardiovascular fitness regimen as simple as brisk walks reap greater focus and reduced decision-making conflict as they perform a variety of tasks, scientists say.

That conclusion comes from a study that utilized functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure changes in brain activity in adults ranging in age from 58 to 78 before and after a six-month program of aerobic exercise. The study, done at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is scheduled to appear the week of Feb. 16-20 as part of PNAS Online Early Edition, ahead of regular print publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Scientists, led by Arthur F. Kramer, a professor of psychology and researcher at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at Illinois, identified specific functional differences in the middle-frontal and superior parietal regions of the brain that changed with improved aerobic fitness. These changes allowed researchers to predict improvements in performance on a decision-making task.

The middle-frontal region of the brain is responsible for keeping goals of an activity in focus. The superior parietal area has been linked to many functions, including the spatial attention.

Participants of the aerobic-exercise intervention reduced their level of behavioral conflict in completing a computer-based task by 11 percent from pre-exercise levels, while the control subjects who performed stretching and toning activities achieved a statistically insignificant decrease of 2 percent.

Previously, Kramer and colleagues had documented that aging adults do better cognitively if they are physically fit and that parts of the brain in active older people contain more white and gray matter.

The new study -- the first involving an exercise intervention in human subjects along with state-of-the-art neuroimaging -- f
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Contact: Jim Barlow, Life Sciences Editor
jebarlow@staff.uiuc.edu
217-333-5802
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
16-Feb-2004


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