EFFECTS OF AGING ON SKELETAL MUSCLE
Aging skeletal muscle undergoes several changes that reduce muscle mass, increase the time a muscle takes to contract in response to nervous stimuli, reduce stamina, and increase recovery time. Loss of muscle fibers begins as early as 25 years of age, and by age 80 the muscle mass has been reduced by approximately 50%. Weight-lifting exercises help slow the loss of muscle mass but do not prevent the loss of muscle fibers. In addition, fast-twitch muscle fibers decrease in number more rapidly than slow-twitch fibers. Most of the loss of strength and speed is due to the loss of muscle fibers, particularly fast-twitch muscle fibers. The surface area of the neuromuscular junction decreases, and as a result, action potentials in neurons stimulate action potentials in muscle cells more slowly; thus, fewer action potentials are produced in muscle fibers. The number of motor neurons also decreases, and the remaining neurons innervate more muscle fibers.
This decreases the number of motor units in skeletal muscle, with a greater number of muscle fibers for each neuron, which may result in less precise muscle control. Aging is also associated with a decrease in the density of capillaries in skeletal muscles so that a longer recovery period is required after exercise.
Many of the age-related changes in skeletal muscle can be slowed dramatically if people remain physically active. As people age, they often assume a sedentary lifestyle. Studies show that elderly people who are sedentary can become stronger and more mobile in response to exercise.