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Ageing, fitness and neurocognitive function

A Correction to this article was published on 16 December 1999


In the ageing process, neural areas1,2 and cognitive processes3,4 do not degrade uniformly. Executive control processes and the prefrontal and frontal brain regions that support them show large and disproportionate changes with age. Studies of adult animals indicate that metabolic5 and neurochemical6 functions improve with aerobic fitness. We therefore investigated whether greater aerobic fitness in adults would result in selective improvements in executive control processes, such as planning, scheduling, inhibition and working memory. Over a period of six months, we studied 124 previously sedentary adults, 60 to 75 years old, who were randomly assigned to either aerobic (walking) or anaerobic (stretching and toning) exercise. We found that those who received aerobic training showed substantial improvements in performance on tasks requiring executive control compared with anaerobically trained subjects.

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Figure 1: Tasks predicted to show selective improvements in performance for the walking but not for the toning group.


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Kramer, A., Hahn, S., Cohen, N. et al. Ageing, fitness and neurocognitive function. Nature 400, 418–419 (1999).

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