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Physical activity, motor performance and skill learning: a focus on primary motor cortex in healthy aging
Experimental Brain Research  (IF1.972),  Pub Date : 2021-09-09, DOI: 10.1007/s00221-021-06218-1
Cirillo, John

Participation in physical activity benefits brain health and function. Cognitive function generally demonstrates a noticeable effect of physical activity, but much less is known about areas responsible for controlling movement, such as primary motor cortex (M1). While more physical activity may support M1 plasticity in older adults, the neural mechanisms underlying this beneficial effect remain poorly understood. Aging is inevitably accompanied by diminished motor performance, and the extent of plasticity may also be less in older adults compared with young. Motor complications with aging may, perhaps unsurprisingly, contribute to reduced physical activity in older adults. While the development of non-invasive brain stimulation techniques have identified that human M1 is a crucial site for learning motor skills and recovery of motor function after injury, a considerable lack of knowledge remains about how physical activity impacts M1 with healthy aging. Reducing impaired neural activity in older adults may have important implications after neurological insult, such as stroke, which is more common with advancing age. Therefore, a better understanding about the effects of physical activity on M1 processes and motor learning in older adults may promote healthy aging, but also allow us to facilitate recovery of motor function after neurological injury. This article will initially provide a brief overview of the neurophysiology of M1 in the context of learning motor skills, with a focus on healthy aging in humans. This information will then be proceeded by a more detailed assessment that focuses on whether physical activity benefits motor function and human M1 processes.