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Physical activity, mental exercise, and cognitive functioning in an Italian sample of healthy elderly males

C. Pruneti, D. Sgromo, J. Merenda, D. M. Cammisuli, J. Fusi, F. Franzoni, F. Galetta, A. Innocenti


The influences of physical and mental activity on cognitive functioning were examined in a sample of Italian healthy elderly males. The aim of the present study was to suggest aerobic training as well as cognitively stimulating activity and provide recommendations for an overall healthy lifestyle. Seventy-five healthy adult males, aged 65-81, were assigned to four groups, two groups of active subjects practicing different levels of regular aerobic exercise, and two groups of sedentary subjects, one without any relevant mental stimulating activity and the other one regularly carrying out substantial mental activity. Each group was further divided into three subgroups based on their level of education. Cognitive functioning was assessed by the Italian version of MoCA. Data was analysed in a non-parametric two-factor model by Aligned Rank Transformation, and then compared with the normative data for the Italian population. Physically active subjects showed better cognitive performance than the other groups in all the cognitive domains, except for memory and orientation. Among the sedentary subjects, the mentally active ones showed better performance in some cognitive domains, specifically in attention and memory. The influence of education was highlighted in some scores, but significant interactions with activity levels were never highlighted. Moreover, the influence of life habits (i.e. physical and mental activity) on the MoCa scores always showed a higher effect size than education. Our findings showed that both physical and mental activity improve cognitive functions in the elderly, and that they affect specific cognitive domains.


Attention; Memory; Mental Health; MoCA; Physical Activity; Recreation Activity

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