European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 114, Issue 1, pp 29–39 | Cite as

Longitudinal decline of lower extremity muscle power in healthy and mobility-limited older adults: influence of muscle mass, strength, composition, neuromuscular activation and single fiber contractile properties

  • Kieran F. Reid
  • Evan Pasha
  • Gheorghe Doros
  • David J. Clark
  • Carolynn Patten
  • Edward M. Phillips
  • Walter R. Frontera
  • Roger A. FieldingEmail author
Original Article



This longitudinal study examined the major physiological mechanisms that determine the age-related loss of lower extremity muscle power in two distinct groups of older humans. We hypothesized that after ~3 years of follow-up, mobility-limited older adults (mean age: 77.2 ± 4, n = 22, 12 females) would have significantly greater reductions in leg extensor muscle power compared to healthy older adults (74.1 ± 4, n = 26, 12 females).


Mid-thigh muscle size and composition were assessed using computed tomography. Neuromuscular activation was quantified using surface electromyography and vastus lateralis single muscle fibers were studied to evaluate intrinsic muscle contractile properties.


At follow-up, the overall magnitude of muscle power loss was similar between groups: mobility-limited: −8.5 % vs. healthy older: −8.8 %, P > 0.8. Mobility-limited elders had significant reductions in muscle size (−3.8 %, P < 0.01) and strength (−5.9 %, P < 0.02), however, these parameters were preserved in healthy older (P ≥ 0.7). Neuromuscular activation declined significantly within healthy older, but not in mobility-limited participants. Within both groups, the cross-sectional areas of type I and IIA muscle fibers were preserved while substantial increases in single fiber peak force (>30 %), peak power (>200 %) and unloaded shortening velocity (>50 %) were elicited at follow-up.


Different physiological mechanisms contribute to the loss of lower extremity muscle power in healthy older and mobility-limited older adults. Neuromuscular changes may be the critical early determinant of muscle power deficits with aging. In response to major whole muscle decrements, major compensatory mechanisms occur within the contractile properties of surviving single muscle fibers in an attempt to restore overall muscle power and function with advancing age.


Aging Lower extremity muscle power Single muscle fiber Longitudinal 



This research was supported by the National Institute on Aging grant number AG18844 and based upon work supported by the US Department of Agriculture, under Agreement No. 58-1950-0-014. Any opinions, findings, conclusion, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the US Department of Agriculture. This research was also supported by the Boston Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center (1P30AG031679) and the Boston Rehabilitation Outcomes Center, funded by NIH Infrastructure Grant (1R24HD065688-01A1). This manuscript contributes to the requirements of a Ph.D. thesis supervised by Dr. Michael A. Conway, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.

Supplementary material

421_2013_2728_MOESM1_ESM.pptx (168 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PPTX 168 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kieran F. Reid
    • 1
    • 2
  • Evan Pasha
    • 1
  • Gheorghe Doros
    • 3
  • David J. Clark
    • 4
    • 5
  • Carolynn Patten
    • 4
    • 6
  • Edward M. Phillips
    • 1
    • 7
  • Walter R. Frontera
    • 7
    • 8
    • 9
  • Roger A. Fielding
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Nutrition, Exercise Physiology and Sarcopenia LaboratoryJean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts UniversityBostonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Clinical MedicineTrinity College DublinDublinIreland
  3. 3.Department of BiostatisticsBoston University School of Public HealthBostonUSA
  4. 4.Brain Rehabilitation Research Center, Malcom Randall VA Medical CenterGainesvilleUSA
  5. 5.Department of Aging and Geriatric ResearchUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  6. 6.Department of Physical TherapyUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  7. 7.Department of Physical Medicine and RehabilitationHarvard Medical School and Spaulding Rehabilitation HospitalBostonUSA
  8. 8.Departments of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and PhysiologyUniversity of Puerto Rico School of MedicineSan JuanPuerto Rico
  9. 9.Department of Physical Medicine and RehabilitationVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA

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