gms | German Medical Science

Physical activity and successful aging
10th International EGREPA Conference

European Group for Research into Elderly and Physical Activity

14.09. - 16.09.2006 in Köln

When does motor aging start? – Insights from lifespan studies

Meeting Abstract

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Physical activity and successful aging. Xth International EGREPA Conference. Cologne, 14.-16.09.2006. Düsseldorf, Köln: German Medical Science; 2006. Doc06pasa014

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Published: December 18, 2006

© 2006 Voelcker-Rehage.
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A large number of motor and cognitive studies has shown that many types of motor and cognitive abilities decline with age and that younger adults benefit more from training programs than older adults [2], [4]. These results are interpreted as a substantial age-related performance loss in older adults and a reduction in cognitive or motor plasticity, respectively. Most of these studies compare older adults’ performances with those of younger adults (mostly students), but don’t investigate middle-aged participants.

Recent research from lifespan studies, however, suggests that the age-related changes need to be investigated in more detail. For example, Salthouse [3] showed that many different types of cognitive variables are affected by increased age, and with respect to the point in time, age-related differences appear to begin in early and not in late adulthood. Our own results for the motor area indicate that the reduction of a variety of motor abilities appears to begin early (between 25 and 35 years), stay stable in middle adulthood and show a large decrease after retirement age [5]. Thus, a lifespan perspective obtains an estimate of the starting point, the size and the course of age-related reductions.

Another aspect that needs to be taken into consideration is the difference between cross-sectional and longitudinal research. For example, different results have been found in cognitive aging research for cross-sectional data as compared to longitudinal data [1]. While in a cross-sectional study a linear life-long decline was found, in a longitudinal comparison age-related changes from age 20 to 60 tend to be small or non-existent, whereas changes after the age of 60 have a slope that is roughly equivalent to that found in cross-sectional data. Inferences about age-related changes might depend on how changes are measured and on the individuals being sampled.

The aim of this presentation is to discuss the insights we might gain from lifespan studies as compared to the “common” younger-older-comparison; insights such as the potential risks of under- or overestimation of results, the course of age-related decline and the potential of the older learner. Therefore, longitudinal and cross-sectional studies regarding motor and cognitive development in older adults and across the lifespan were referred to and potential explanations for age-related changes were discussed.


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