The study investigated, through neuroendocrinological, subjective and behavioral assessments, how aging individuals cope with locomotor-cognitive dual-tasking and whether physical activity habits influence the acute response to locomotor-cognitive performance. Seventy-nine healthy participants aged 55–85 years were assessed on locomotor (gait speed, stride length) and cognitive (working memory) performances under single- and dual-task (ST, DT) conditions, and habitual physical activity (daily steps). Rating of perceived exertion (RPE) was assessed immediately after performance. Salivary α-amylase (sAA) was measured prior, immediately and 5 min after performance. Gait and working memory variables, the area under the curve of sAA (AUC) and DT–ST differences (DT effects) were computed. AUC was higher when the ST or DT performance involved a locomotor component and showed a pre-to-post increment after DT only, whereas RPE was higher when performance involved a cognitive component. Daily steps neither predicted sAA, nor RPE. Associations between DT effects on sAA, RPE and performance emerged in high-active participants only. In aging individuals, DT walking elicits an autonomic stress response presumably led by the challenge to share resources relying upon common neural substrates. This autonomic response seems tuned to gait performance and subjective evaluation of effort in those more accustomed to walking.
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