Muscle morphology and performance in master athletes: A systematic review and meta-analyses

James McKendry, Leigh Breen, Brandon Shad, Carolyn Greig

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Introduction: The extent to which chronic exercise training preserves age-related decrements in physical function, muscle strength, mass and morphology is unclear. Our aim was to conduct a systematic review of the literature to determine to what extent chronically trained master athletes (strength/power and endurance) preserve levels of physical function, muscle strength, muscle mass and morphology in older age, compared with older and younger controls and young trained individuals.Methods: The systematic data search included Medline, EMBASE, SPORTDiscus, CINAHL and Web of Science databases.Inclusion criteria: i) master athletes mean exercise training duration ≥20 years ii) master athletes mean age of cohort >59 years) iii) at least one measurement of muscle mass/volume/fibre-type morphology and/or strength/physical function.Results: Fifty-five eligible studies were identified. Meta-analyses were carried out on maximal aerobic capacity, maximal voluntary contraction and body composition. Master endurance athletes (42.0 ± 6.6 ml kg−1 min−1) exhibited VO2max values comparable with young healthy controls (43.1 ± 6.8 ml kg−1 min−1, P = .84), greater than older controls (27.1 ± 4.3 ml kg−1 min−1, P < 0.01) and master strength/power athletes (26.5 ± 2.3 mlkg−1 min−1, P < 0.01), and lower than young endurance trained individuals (60.0 ± 5.4 ml kg−1 min−1, P < 0.01). Master strength/power athletes (0.60 (0.28–0.93) P < 0.01) and young controls (0.71 (0.06–1.36) P < 0.05) were significantly stronger compared with the other groups. Body fat% was greater in master endurance athletes than young endurance trained (−4.44% (−8.44 to −0.43) P < 0.05) but lower compared with older controls (7.11% (5.70–8.52) P < 0.01).Conclusion: Despite advancing age, this review suggests that chronic exercise training preserves physical function, muscular strength and body fat levels similar to that of young, healthy individuals in an exercise mode-specific manner.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)62-82
JournalAgeing Research Reviews
Early online date30 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2018


  • sarcopenia
  • lifelong exercise
  • muscle mass
  • muscle strength
  • endurance capacity


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