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.