Muscle strength and force development in high- and low-functioning elderly men: Influence of muscular and neural factors

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Abstract

Background

Aging leads to a loss of muscle strength and functional capacity likely resulting from a combination of neural and muscle alterations. The aim of this study was to identify possible disparities in muscle strength and force development profiles in high- and low-functioning elderly men and to investigate muscular and neurophysiological factors that could explain the differences.

Methods

Sixty community-dwelling men in good general health were divided in two groups based on a functional capacity (FC) z-score derived from 6 tests of the Short Physical Performance Battery and Senior Fitness Test (Normal and fast 4 m-walk tests, normal and fast Timed-up and go, chair and stair tests). Extensor strength of the lower limbs (LL) was obtained for concentric (CLES) contraction and combined with lean masses of LL (LLLM) to yield concentric (CLES/LLLM) index. Similarly, extensor strength of the right Quadriceps Femoris (IKES) was obtained during maximal voluntary isometric contraction (MVC) and combined with right thigh lean mass (rTLM) to produce an isometric strength (IKES/rTLM) index. A muscular profile was obtained from: ascending and descending force slopes during the MVC; Vastus Lateralis (VL) muscle twitches parameters (amplitude, contraction and ½ relaxation times); the knee joint velocity (KV) as well as integrated EMG (iEMG) were determined for a sit-to-stand functional evaluation; muscle phenotype. A neurophysiological profile was established from: the spinal excitability (Hmax/Mmax ratio); motoneuron conduction velocity (CV); the completeness of muscle activation (% of force reserve), median power frequency (MPF) and mean amplitude (MA) of the VL EMG signal during MVC.

Results

Coincidently, age did not differ between groups. Strength and force indices, descending force slopes for MVC, KV and iEMG during the sit-to-stand evaluation and FC parameters were all significantly (p < 0.05) lower in the LoFC group than in the HiFC group. In contrast, no difference was observed between groups in: LLLM and rTLM, Hmax/Mmax ratio, CV, twitch parameters and muscle phenotype.

Conclusion

The lower concentric and isometric strengths found in the LoFC group could not be accounted for by muscular factors. Similarly, peripheral nervous systems alterations could not explain group differences. It can be suggested that modifications within the central nervous system may be responsible for the differences in the functional status of healthy elderly individuals. Finally, more complex and demanding tasks, such as those requiring greater intensity or coordination, may further clarify how healthy elderly individuals with low and high functional capacities differ.

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