Changes in skeletal muscle with aging: effects of exercise training

Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 1993;21:65-102.


There is an approximate 30% decline in muscle strength and a 40% reduction in muscle area between the second and seventh decades of life. Thus, the loss of muscle mass with aging appears to be the major factor in the age-related loss of muscle strength. The loss of muscle mass is partially due to a significant decline in the numbers of both Type I and Type II muscle fibers plus a decrease in the size of the muscle cells, with the Type II fibers showing a preferential atrophy. There appears to be no loss of glycolytic capacity in senescent skeletal muscle whereas muscle oxidative enzyme activity and muscle capillarization decrease by about 25%. Vigorous endurance exercise training in older people, where the stimulus is progressively increased, elicits a proliferation of muscle capillaries, an increase in oxidative enzyme activity, and a significant improvement in VO2max. Likewise, progressive resistive training in older individuals results in muscle hypertrophy and increased strength, if the training stimulus is of a sufficient intensity and duration. Since older individuals adapt to resistive and endurance exercise training in a similar fashion to young people, the decline in the muscle's metabolic and force-producing capacity can no longer be considered as an inevitable consequence of the aging process. Rather, the adaptations in aging skeletal muscle to exercise training may prevent sarcopenia, enhance the ease of carrying out the activities of daily living, and exert a beneficial effect on such age-associated diseases as Type II diabetes, coronary artery disease, hypertension, osteoporosis, and obesity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Exercise* / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscles / metabolism
  • Muscles / physiology
  • Physical Endurance / physiology