Benefits of physical exercise on the aging brain: The role of the prefrontal cortex

Marika Berchicci, Giuliana Lucci, Francesco Di Russo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Motor planning in older adults likely relies on the overengagement of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and is associated with slowness of movement and responses. Does a physically active lifestyle counteract the overrecruitment of the PFC during action preparation? This study used high-resolution electroencephalography to measure the effect of physical exercise on the executive functions of the PFC preceding a visuomotor discriminative task. A total of 130 participants aged 15-86 were divided into two groups based on physical exercise participation. The response times and accuracy and the premotor activity of the PFC were separately correlated with age for the two groups. The data were first fit with a linear function and then a higher order polynomial function. We observed that after 35-40 years of age, physically active individuals have faster response times than their less active peers and showed no signs of PFC hyperactivity during motor planning. The present findings show that physical exercise could speed up the response of older people and reveal that also in middle-aged people, moderate-to-high levels of physical exercise benefits the planning/execution of a response and the executive functions mediated by the PFC, counteracting the neural overactivity often observed in the elderly adults.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1337-1341
Number of pages5
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series A Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2013


  • Middle aged
  • Movement-related cortical potential
  • Physical exercise
  • Prefrontal cortex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ageing
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Medicine(all)


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