Regular participation in leisure time activities and high cardiovascular fitness improve motor sequence learning in older adults

K. Zwingmann, L. Hübner, W. B. Verwey, J. S. Barnhoorn, B. Godde, C. Voelcker-Rehage*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Introduction: Older adults show higher interindividual performance variability during the learning of new motor sequences than younger adults. It is largely unknown what factors contribute to this variability. This study aimed to, first, characterize age differences in motor sequence learning and, second, examine influencing factors for interindividual performance differences. Method: 30 young adults (age M = 21.89, SD = 2.08, 20 female) and 29 older adults (age M = 69.55, SD = 3.03, 18 female) participated in the study. Motor sequence learning was assessed with a discrete sequence production (DSP) task, requiring key presses to a sequence of visual stimuli. Three DSP practice phases (á 8 blocks × 16 sequences, two six-element sequences) and two transfer blocks (new untrained sequences) were performed. Older participants conducted the Mini-Mental Status Examination and a visuospatial working-memory task. All participants finished a questionnaire on everyday leisure activities and a cardiovascular fitness test. Results: Performance speed increased with practice in both groups, but young improved more than older adults (significant Group × Time effect for response time, F(1,5) = 4.353, p = 0.004, ηp2 = 0.071). Accuracy did not change in any age group (non-significant Group × Time effect for error rates, F(1,5) = 2.130, p = 0.091, ηp2 = 0.036). Older adults revealed lower transfer costs for performance speed (significant Time × Group effect, e.g., simple sequence, F(1,2) = 10.511, p = 0.002, ηp2 = 0.156). High participation in leisure time activities (β = − 0.58, p = 0.010, R2 = 0.45) and high cardiovascular fitness (β = − 0.49, p = 0.011, R2 = 0.45) predicted successful motor sequence learning in older adults. Discussion: Results confirmed impaired motor learning in older adults. Younger adults seem to show a better implicit knowledge of the practiced sequences compared to older adults. Regular participation in leisure time activities and cardiovascular fitness seem to prevent age-related decline and to facilitate motor sequence performance and motor sequence learning in older adults.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1488-1502
Number of pages15
JournalPsychological Research
Volume85
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2021

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