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Neural Correlates of Attentional and Executive Processing in Middle-Age Fencers


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: June 2012 - Volume 44 - Issue 6 - p 1057–1066
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31824529c2
Basic Sciences

Purpose Open-skill sports require high levels of visual attention and fast and flexible decision making and action execution. We evaluated whether these sports may counteract the well-known age-related declines in executive processing.

Methods Young and middle-age fencers and nonathletes were studied. Participants (N = 40) performed visual motor tasks while reaction times (RTs) and event-related potentials were recorded.

Results RTs were slower for the older subjects, but accuracy was not impaired. At event-related potential level, the late P3 component was delayed in older subjects, but those who participated in sports showed less delay. The RTs of middle-age and young fencers were comparable; the P1 latency of middle-age fencers was similar to that of the younger subjects; the N1 was enhanced in older, as well as younger, fencers; the N2 component of fencers had shorter latencies and larger amplitudes than nonathletes; and in no-go trials, the P3 component was enhanced in fencers independent of age.

Conclusions Overall, the practice of open-skill sports was associated with improvement of the executive functions that are already degraded at middle age.

1Department of Education Sciences for Motor Activity and Sport, University of Rome “Foro Italico,” Rome, ITALY; and 2Neuropsychology Center, Santa Lucia Foundation, Rome, ITALY

Address for correspondence: Francesco Di Russo, Ph.D., University of Rome “Foro Italico,” Piazza Lauro De Bosis, 15, 00135 Rome, Italy; E-mail:

Submitted for publication September 2011.

Accepted for publication December 2011.

©2012The American College of Sports Medicine