Alterations in muscle attenuation following detraining and retraining in resistance-trained older adults

Gerontology. 2009;55(2):217-23. doi: 10.1159/000182084. Epub 2008 Dec 5.


Background: Aging skeletal muscle is characterized not only by a reduction in size (sarcopenia) and strength but also by an increase in fatty infiltration (myosteatosis). An effective countermeasure to sarcopenia is resistance exercise; however, its effect on fatty infiltration is less clear.

Objective: To examine in resistance-trained older persons whether muscle attenuation, a noninvasive measure of muscle density reflecting intramuscular lipid content, is altered with training status.

Methods: Thirteen healthy community-dwelling men and women aged 65-83 years (body mass index 27.0+/-1.2, mean+/-SE) had computed-tomography scans of the mid-thigh performed following 24 weeks of training, 24 weeks of detraining, and 12 weeks of retraining. Training and retraining were undertaken twice weekly for several upper- and lower-body muscle groups. Skeletal muscle attenuation in Hounsfield units (HU) as well as mid-thigh muscle volume was obtained for the quadriceps and hamstrings. Muscle strength was assessed by 1-repetition maximum and physical function by a battery of tests.

Results: The average change in muscle strength following training, detraining and retraining was 48.8+/-2.9%, -17.6+/-1.3%, and 19.8+/-2.0%, respectively. Strength changes were accompanied by significant alterations in muscle density (p<0.001), with the quadriceps HU decreasing by 7.7+/-1.0% following detraining and increasing by 5.4+/-0.5% with retraining. For the hamstrings HU measure, detraining and retraining resulted in an 11.9+/-1.4% loss and a 5.5+/-1.8% gain, respectively. There was no significant change in muscle volume.

Conclusion: Cessation of resistance exercise in trained older persons increases the fatty infiltration of muscle, while resumption of exercise decreases it. Monitoring changes in both muscle size and fat infiltration may enable a more comprehensive assessment of exercise in combating age-related muscular changes.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / anatomy & histology
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / pathology*
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Male
  • Muscle Strength*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / anatomy & histology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / diagnostic imaging
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Resistance Training*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed