Previous studies have shown that aging is associated with alterations in muscle architecture and tendon properties (Morse CI, Thom JM, Birch KM, Narici MV. Acta Physiol Scand 183: 291-298, 2005; Narici MV, Maganaris CN, Reeves ND, Capodaglio P. J Appl Physiol 95: 2229-2234, 2003; Stenroth L, Peltonen J, Cronin NJ, Sipila S, Finni T. J Appl Physiol 113: 1537-1544, 2012). However, the possible influence of different types of regular exercise loading on muscle architecture and tendon properties in older adults is poorly understood. To address this, triceps surae muscle-tendon properties were examined in older male endurance (OE, n = 10, age = 74.0 ± 2.8 yr) and sprint runners (OS, n = 10, age = 74.4 ± 2.8 yr), with an average of 42 yr of regular training experience, and compared with age-matched [older control (OC), n = 33, age = 74.8 ± 3.6 yr] and young untrained controls (YC, n = 18, age = 23.7 ± 2.0 yr). Compared with YC, Achilles tendon cross-sectional area (CSA) was 22% (P = 0.022), 45% (P = 0.001), and 71% (P < 0.001) larger in OC, OE, and OS, respectively. Among older groups, OS had significantly larger tendon CSA compared with OC (P = 0.033). No significant between-group differences were observed in Achilles tendon stiffness. In older groups, Young's modulus was 31-44%, and maximal tendon stress 44-55% lower, than in YC (P ≤ 0.001). OE showed shorter soleus fascicle length than both OC (P < 0.05) and YC (P < 0.05). These data suggest that long-term running does not counteract the previously reported age-related increase in tendon CSA, but, instead, may have an additive effect. The greatest Achilles tendon CSA was observed in OS followed by OE and OC, suggesting that adaptation to running exercise is loading intensity dependent. Achilles tendon stiffness was maintained in older groups, even though all older groups displayed larger tendon CSA and lower tendon Young's modulus. Shorter soleus muscle fascicles in OE runners may be an adaptation to life-long endurance running.
Keywords: Achilles tendon; aging; exercise; mechanical properties; muscle architecture.
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