The current study examined the influence of aging on the oscillatory activity of a population of motor units during rhythmical force production. Previously, it has been shown that aging humans have greater low-frequency and less high-frequency electromyographic (EMG) activity during constant and slow ramp force contractions. We hypothesized that more rapid force contractions would reverse the established finding of reduced high- and greater low-frequency EMG activity to greater high- and reduced low-frequency EMG activity in older adults. Intramuscular EMG activity and effector force were recorded while 45 human subjects (20-31 and 60-88 yr of age) rhythmically produced force at four distinct frequencies (1-4 Hz) and two force levels (5 and 25% maximal voluntary contraction). Spectral and coherence analyses were performed on the force output and EMG activity. In the 3- and 4-Hz targets, the older adults had greater 35- to 50-Hz and reduced 0- to 5-Hz EMG activity compared with the young adults. There was greater EMG-force coherence in the 0- to 5-Hz bandwidth for the young subjects. No systematic age difference in the phase relationship between the EMG and force signals were found. Higher frequency force contractions reversed the previously established aging differences in the relative contribution of low- and high-frequency EMG activity. Thus the frequency properties of the task goals channel the relative contribution of low and high EMG activity. Furthermore, it is proposed that aging humans lose the adaptive capability to coordinate the excitatory and inhibitory activity of multiple neural oscillators.
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