Age related differences in maximal and rapid torque characteristics of the leg extensors and flexors in young, middle-aged and old men

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Experimental Gerontology







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The decline in maximal and rapid isometric torque characteristics may compromise functional living abilities in aging adults while loco-motor muscle groups, such as the leg extensors and flexors, may exhibit different torque–time age related decreases. The purpose of the present study was to examine the age-related differences in maximal and rapid torque characteristics of the leg extensor and flexor muscle groups in young, middle-aged, and old men. Sixty-five healthy men were categorized by age as young (n = 25; mean ± SD age = 24.9 ± 3.0 years), middle-aged (n = 22; age = 50.6 ± 4.0 years), and old (n = 18; age = 66.8 ± 4.5 years). Participants performed maximal voluntary contractions (MVCs) of the leg extensors and flexors and an estimated thigh cross sectional area (eThighCSA) assessment. Peak torque (PT), peak rate of torque development (RTDpeak), absolute RTD and the contractile impulse (IMPULSE) were calculated at time intervals of 30, 50, 100 and 200 ms from the torque–time curve. Relative RTD was calculated at 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50% of MVC from the normalized torque–time curves. PT, RTDpeak and later rapid torque variables (RTD100, RTD200, and IMPULSE200) were greater (P ≤ 0.05) in the young and middle-aged when compared to the old men for both muscle groups. Early (RTD30,50; IMPULSE30,50) and late (IMPULSE100) rapid torque variables were greater (P ≤ 0.05) for the young and middle-aged than the old men for the leg extensors but not the leg flexors, except for RTD30, in which there was no difference between young and old. There were no differences for all relative RTD variables between age groups (P > 0.05). eThighCSA was lower in the old compared to the young (P = 0.001) and middle-aged (P = 0.016) men. Maximal and rapid torque characteristics were preserved in middle-aged men but greatly reduced in older men with differential effects at early and late portions of the torque–time curve between the leg extensors and flexors. Significant decreases in absolute maximal and rapid torque production with no change in relative RTD across age groups and lower eThighCSA in old men may suggest that the loss of rapid torque producing capacities observed in older men may be largely a function of mechanisms associated with loss of muscle strength and muscle mass.

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