Respiratory muscle strength in the physically active elderly

Lung. 2007 Dec;185(6):315-20. doi: 10.1007/s00408-007-9027-9. Epub 2007 Oct 5.


Advancing age is associated with a decline in the strength of the skeletal muscles, including those of respiration. Respiratory muscles can be strengthened with nonrespiratory activities. We therefore hypothesized that regular exercise in the elderly would attenuate this age-related decline in respiratory muscle strength. Twenty-four healthy subjects older than 65 years were recruited (11 males and 13 females). A comprehensive physical activity survey was administered, and subjects were categorized as active (n = 12) or inactive (n = 12). Each subject underwent testing of maximum inspiratory and expiratory pressures (PI(max) and PE(max)). Diaphragmatic thickness (tdi) was measured via two-dimensional B-mode ultrasound. There were no significant differences between the active and inactive groups with respect to age (75 vs. 73 years) or body weight (69.1vs. 69.9 kg). There were more women (9) than men (3) in the inactive group. Diaphragm thickness was greater in the active group (0.31 +/- 0.06 cm vs. 0.25 +/- 0.04 cm; p = 0.011). PE(max) and PI(max) were also greater in the active group (130 +/- 44 cm H(2)O vs. 80 +/- 24 cm H(2)O; p = 0.002; and 99 +/- 32 cm H(2)O vs. 75 +/- 14 cm H(2)O; p = 0.03). There was a positive association between PI(max )and tdi (r = 0.43, p = 0.03). Regular exercise was positively associated with diaphragm muscle thickness in this cohort. As PE(max) was higher in the active group, we postulate that recruitment of the diaphragm and abdominal muscles during nonrespiratory activities may be the source of this training effect.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Female
  • Forced Expiratory Volume / physiology
  • Humans
  • Lung / physiology
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Muscle Strength / physiology*
  • Reference Values
  • Respiratory Muscles / physiology*
  • Vital Capacity / physiology