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Muscle Quality in Aging: a Multi-Dimensional Approach to Muscle Functioning with Applications for Treatment

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Abstract

Aging is often accompanied by declines in physical functioning which impedes older adults’ quality of life, sense of independence, and ability to perform daily tasks. Age-related decreases in skeletal muscle quantity, termed sarcopenia, have traditionally been blamed for these physical decrements. However, recent evidence suggests that the quality of muscle tissue may be more functionally relevant than its quantity. ‘Muscle quality’ has been emerging as a means to elucidate and describe the intricate intramuscular changes associated with muscle performance in the context of aging and sarcopenia. While muscle quality has most commonly been defined in terms of muscle composition or relative strength, at the core, muscle quality really describes muscle’s ability to function. Skeletal muscle displays a strong structure–function relationship by which several architectural characteristics factor into its functional capacity. This review describes the structural, physiological, and functional determinants of muscle quality at the tissue and cellular level, while also introducing other novel parameters such as sarcomere spacing and integrity, circulating biomarkers, and the muscle quality index. Muscle qualitative features are described from the perspective of how physical exercise may improve muscle quality in older adults. This broad, multidimensional perspective of muscle quality in the context of aging and sarcopenia offers comprehensive insights for consideration and integration in developing improved prognostic tools for research and clinical care, while also promoting translational approaches to the design of novel targeted intervention strategies designed to maintain function and mobility into late life.

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Acknowledgments

The authors have no potential conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this review. No sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this review.

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Fragala, M.S., Kenny, A.M. & Kuchel, G.A. Muscle Quality in Aging: a Multi-Dimensional Approach to Muscle Functioning with Applications for Treatment. Sports Med 45, 641–658 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-015-0305-z

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