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Influence Of Aging On Sex Differences In Muscle Fatigability

Sandra K. Hunter, Ashley Critchlow, Roger M. Enoka

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The purpose of this study was to compare time to task failure for a sustained isometric contraction performed at a submaximal intensity with elbow flexor muscles by young and old men and women. Twenty-seven young (14 men and 13 women, 18–35 yr) and 18 old (10 men and 8 women, 65–80 yr) adults sustained an isometric contraction at 20% of maximal voluntary contraction torque until target torque could no longer be achieved for ≥5 s. Young adults were stronger than old adults (66.8 ± 17.9 vs. 47.7 ± 18.1 N·m, P < 0.05), and men were stronger than women (69.8 ± 17.9 vs. 47.1 ± 15.3 N·m, P < 0.05), with no interaction between age and sex ( P > 0.05). Time to task failure was longer for old than for young adults (22.8 ± 9.1 vs. 14.4 ± 7.6 min, P < 0.05) and for young women than for young men (18.3 ± 8.0 vs. 10.8 ± 5.2, P < 0.05), but there was no difference between old women and men (21.3 ± 10.7 and 24.1 ± 8.0 min, respectively, P > 0.05) or between young women and old adults ( P > 0.05). Mean arterial pressure, heart rate, average electromyographic (EMG) activity, and torque fluctuations of elbow flexor muscles increased during the fatiguing contraction ( P < 0.05) for all subjects. Rates of increase in mean arterial pressure, heart rate, and torque fluctuations were greater for young men and old adults, with no differences between old men and women ( P > 0.05). Similarly, the rate of increase in EMG activity was greater for young men than for the other three groups. EMG bursts were less frequent for old adults ( P < 0.05) at the end of the fatiguing contraction, and this was accompanied by reduced fluctuations in torque. Consequently, time to task failure was related to target torque for young, but not old, adults, and differences in task duration were accompanied by parallel changes in the pressor response.