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J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Dec;23(9):2430-6.

Thigh muscle strength in senior athletes and healthy controls.

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Department of Health and Physical Activity, School of Education, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.


Exercise is commonly recommended to counteract aging-related muscle weakness. While numerous exercise intervention studies on the elderly have been performed, few have included elite senior athletes, such as those who participate in the National Senior Games. The extent to which participation in highly competitive exercise affects muscle strength is unknown, as well as the extent to which such participation mitigates any aging-related strength losses. The purpose of this study was to examine isometric thigh muscle strength in selected athletes of the National Senior Games and healthy noncompetitive controls of similar age, as well as to investigate strength changes with aging in both groups. In all, 95 athletes of the Games and 72 healthy controls participated. Of the senior athletes, 43 were runners, 12 cyclists, and 40 swimmers. Three trials of isometric knee flexion and extension strength were collected using a load cell affixed to a custom-designed chair. Strength data were normalized to dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry-obtained lean mass of the leg. A 3-factor multivariate analysis of variance (group x gender x age group) was performed, which included both the extension and flexion variables (alpha = 0.05). Athletes exhibited 38% more extension strength and 66% more flexion strength than the controls (p < 0.001). Strength did not decrease with advancing age in either the athletes or the controls (p = 0.345). In conclusion, senior athletes who participate in highly competitive exercise have greater strength than healthy aged-matched individuals who do not. Neither group displayed the expected strength losses with aging. Our subject cohorts, however, were not typical of those over age 65 years because individuals with existing health conditions were excluded from the study.

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