Neuromuscular Control and Performance Differences Associated With Gender and Obesity in Fatiguing Tasks Performed by Older Adults
Obesity rates in the geriatric population have emerged as a serious health concern in recent decades. Yet, obesity-related differences in neuromuscular performance and motor control during fatiguing tasks, and how they are modified by gender, specifically among older adults, are still largely unexplored. The first aim of this study was to understand obesity and gender-related differences in endurance time among older adults. Motor variability has been linked with inter-individual differences in the rate of fatigue development, and as potentially revealing underlying mechanisms of neuromuscular control. Hence, the second and third aims of this study were to investigate to what extent motor variability at baseline could predict inter-individual differences in endurance time, and whether systematic obesity and gender differences exist in motor variability among older adults. Fifty-nine older adults (65 years or older) were recruited into four groups: obese male, obese female, non-obese male, and non-obese female. Participants performed submaximal intermittent isometric knee extensions until exhaustion. Knee extension force and muscle activation signals (surface electromyography) of a primary agonist muscle, the Vastus Lateralis (VL), were collected. Endurance time and metrics quantifying both the size and structure of variability were computed for the force and EMG signals, using coefficient of variation (within cycles and between cycles) and sample entropy measures. While group differences in endurance time were primarily associated with gender, adding individual motor variability measures as predictor variables explained significantly more variance in endurance time, thus highlighting the relevance of motor variability in understanding neuromotor control strategies. Males exhibited longer endurance times, higher EMG CV, lower EMG SaEn, lower force CV, and higher force SaEn than females. These findings are interpreted to indicate males as using a motor strategy involving better “distribution” of the neural efforts across synergists and antagonists to achieve better performance during the knee extension task. No obesity-related changes in endurance time were found. However, obese individuals exhibited a greater cycle-to-cycle variability in muscle activation, indicating a larger alteration in the recruitment of motor units across successive contractions and potentially increased neural costs, which may have contributed to comparable endurance time and performance as non-obese older adults.