Much is known about practice-induced plasticity of the motor system. But it is not clear how a physical training influences the mental rehearsal of the practiced task and its associated hemodynamic responses. In the present longitudinal study with two measurement time-points, we used the method of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and a motor imagery task, in order to explore the dynamic neuro-functional changes induced by a highly complex physical training. The 11 golf novices between the age of 40 and 60 years practiced the motor training as leisure activity. Additionally, data from an age and sex-matched control group without golf training was collected. As a main result, we demonstrate that changes between the two measurement time-points were only found in the golf novice group. The golf novices showed a decrease in hemodynamic responses during the mental rehearsal of the golf swing in non-primary motor areas after the 40 h of golf practice. Thus, the results indicate that a complex physical leisure activity induces functional neuroplasticity in the seldom studied population of middle-aged adults, and that this effect is evident during mental rehearsal of the practiced task. This finding supports the idea that (a) a skill improvement is associated with a modified activation pattern in the associated neuronal network that can be identified during mental rehearsal of the practiced task, and that (b) a strict training protocol is not necessary to induce functional neuroplasticity.
Keywords: motor imagery, fMRI, middle adulthood, functional neuroplasticity, motor learning
Citation: Bezzola L, Mérillat S and Jäncke L (2012) The effect of leisure activity golf practice on motor imagery: an fMRI study in middle adulthood. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 6:67. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00067
Received: 21 December 2011; Paper pending published: 27 January 2012;
Accepted: 13 March 2012; Published online: 29 March 2012.
Edited by:Shuhei Yamaguchi, Shimane University, Japan
Reviewed by:Rachael D. Seidler, University of Michigan, USA
Copyright: © 2012 Bezzola, Mérillat and Jäncke. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial License, which permits non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited.
*Correspondence: Ladina Bezzola, Institute of Psychology/Neuropsychology, University of Zurich, Binzmuehlestrasse 14/25, CH-8050 Zurich, Switzerland. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org