Single-muscle Fiber Contractile Properties in Lifelong Aerobic Exercising Women

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Journal of Applied Physiology






The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of lifelong aerobic exercise on single-muscle fiber performance in trained women (LLE; n = 7, 72 ± 2 yr) by comparing them to old healthy nonexercisers (OH; n = 10, 75 ± 1 yr) and young exercisers (YE; n = 10, 25 ± 1 yr). On average, LLE had exercised ~5 days/wk for ~7 h/wk over the past 48 ± 2 yr. Each subject had a vastus lateralis muscle biopsy to examine myosin heavy chain (MHC) I and IIa single-muscle fiber size and function (strength, speed, power). MHC I fiber size was similar across all three cohorts (YE = 5,178 ± 157, LLE = 4,983 ± 184, OH = 4,902 ± 159 µm2). MHC IIa fiber size decreased (P < 0.05) 36% with aging (YE = 4,719 ± 164 vs. OH = 3,031 ± 153 µm2), with LLE showing a similar 31% reduction (3,253 ± 189 µm2). LLE had 17% more powerful (P < 0.05) MHC I fibers and offset the 18% decline in MHC IIa fiber power observed with aging (P < 0.05). The LLE contractile power was driven by greater strength (+11%, P = 0.056) in MHC I fibers and elevated contractile speed (+12%, P < 0.05) in MHC IIa fibers. These data indicate that lifelong exercise did not benefit MHC I or IIa muscle fiber size. However, LLE had contractile function adaptations that enhanced MHC I fiber power and preserved MHC IIa fiber power through different contractile mechanisms (strength vs. speed). The single-muscle fiber contractile properties observed with lifelong aerobic exercise are unique and provide new insights into aging skeletal muscle plasticity in women at the myocellular level.


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