Brustad, Robert John, 1952-
Stellino, Megan B.
Kirkland, Rena A.
Sport and Exercise Science
University of Northern Colorado
Type of Resources
Place of Publication
University of Northern Colorado
The preservation of cognitive function is of particular importance for the maintenance of independence and functional autonomy for older adults (Hertzog, Kramer, Wilson, & Lindenberger, 2008). Physical activity is a behavioral intervention that contributes to mental and physical health; it has also been found to promote cognitive function across a lifespan. Cognitive processes that assist with goal-directed behavior to successfully complete everyday tasks known as executive functions are susceptible to physical activity participation especially among youth, adolescent, and older adult populations. Various aspects of the physical activity context might help mediate improvements to executive function including the task complexity of the physical activity and the level of social engagement that might occur during the activity. The purpose of the current study was to explore the relationship among the level of task complexity, the level of social engagement during physical activity, and the variability in executive functioning for physically active older adults. Participants (N = 75, 60% females, 60-73 years of age) reported various types of physical activity involvement over a typical week. The activities were evaluated separately for the level of task complexity and the level of social engagement associated with the physical activities. Three components of executive function were measured: inhibition as assessed by a computerized flanker test; Trail Making Test: Parts A and B to evaluate cognitive flexibility; and the forward, backward, and sequencing digit span tasks to assess working memory. Demographic variables were evaluated and included gender, age (Mage = 64.43 years), completed level of education (M = 16 years), additional number of household members (M = 2) and physical fitness level (Mfemales = 99.16 beats per minute and Mmales = 89.28 beats per minute). The Mini-Mental State Examination (Folstein, Folstein, & McHugh, 1975) was administered and participants all scored 25 out of 30 possible points or higher (Mscore = 29); therefore, no one was excluded for predetermined cognitive decline based on the results of this test. Correlational analyses revealed significant moderate, positive relationships among the three predictor variables and between social engagement and age and task complexity and age. Preliminary analyses indicated non-significant relationships among the demographic variable and the outcome variables. Multivariate multiple regressions were calculated to examine the variability in executive function according to the level of social engagement and task complexity of the physical activities most frequently participated in as reported by the participants. Results indicated higher levels of social engagement and more complex physical activity tasks for this sample of older adults did not contribute to variability in any index of executive function. For this sample, other variables might have more saliently influenced executive functioning. To date, this was the first study to directly evaluate the level of social engagement and task complexity for various types of physical activities. Further research is needed to control for these aspects of physical activity contexts and directly evaluate their influence on executive functioning among older adult populations. Future studies could assist practitioners with the design of a physical activity intervention for older adult that would most effectively influence executive function.
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