Attenuation of skeletal muscle and strength in the elderly: The Health ABC Study

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2001 Jun;90(6):2157-65. doi: 10.1152/jappl.2001.90.6.2157.


Although loss of muscle mass is considered a cause of diminished muscle strength with aging, little is known regarding whether composition of aging muscle affects strength. The skeletal muscle attenuation coefficient, as determined by computed tomography, is a noninvasive measure of muscle density, and lower values reflect increased muscle lipid content. This investigation examined the hypothesis that lower values for muscle attenuation are associated with lower voluntary isokinetic knee extensor strength at 60 degrees/s in 2,627 men and women aged 70-79 yr participating in baseline studies of the Health ABC Study, a longitudinal study of health, aging, and body composition. Strength was higher in men than in women (132.3 +/- 34.5 vs. 81.4 +/- 22.0 N x m, P < 0.01). Men had greater muscle attenuation values (37.3 +/- 6.5 vs. 34.7 +/- 7.0 Hounsfield units) and muscle cross-sectional area (CSA) at the midthigh than women (132.7 +/- 22.4 vs. 93.3 +/- 17.5 cm(2), P < 0.01 for both). The strength per muscle CSA (specific force) was also higher in men (1.00 +/- 0.21 vs. 0.88 +/- 0.21 N x m x cm(-2)). The attenuation coefficient was significantly lower for hamstrings than for quadriceps (28.7 +/- 8.7 vs. 41.1 +/- 6.9 Hounsfield units, P < 0.01). Midthigh muscle attenuation values were lowest (P < 0.01) in the eldest men and women and were negatively associated with total body fat (r = -0.53, P < 0.01). Higher muscle attenuation values were also associated with greater specific force production (r = 0.26, P < 0.01). Multivariate regression analysis revealed that the attenuation coefficient of muscle was independently associated with muscle strength after adjustment for muscle CSA and midthigh adipose tissue in men and women. These results demonstrate that the attenuation values of muscle on computed tomography in older persons can account for differences in muscle strength not attributed to muscle quantity.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / anatomy & histology
  • Adipose Tissue / physiology
  • Aged
  • Blacks
  • Body Composition / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leg / anatomy & histology
  • Leg / diagnostic imaging
  • Male
  • Muscle, Skeletal / anatomy & histology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / diagnostic imaging
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Whites