Aging is associated with increased inflammatory activity. Increased plasma levels of tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha were found in centenarians aged 100 years and in individuals aged 80-81 years when compared to a young control group. Plasma levels of TNF-alpha were linearly correlated to plasma levels of interleukin (IL)-6, TNF-receptors and C-reactive protein. High levels of TNF-alpha were directly related to dementia and to a low blood pressure ankle-arm index, indicating generalized atherosclerosis. In hospitalized patients with Streptococcus pneumonia infection, aging was associated with prolonged inflammatory activity. Similar results were found using an in vivo endotoxin challenge model in old versus young humans. Strenuous exercise induces increased levels in a number of proinflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines, naturally occurring cytokine inhibitors and chemokines. Thus, increased plasma levels of TNF-alpha, IL-1, IL-6, IL-1 receptor antagonist (IL-Ira), TNF-receptors (TNF-R), IL-10, IL-8 and macrophage inflammatory protein (MIP)-1 are found after strenuous exercise. The cytokine response to strenuous exercise has similarities to the cytokine response to trauma and sepsis. Therefore, in future studies, exercise is suggested as an ethically applicable model to use in studies on mechanisms underlying the age-associated altered cytokine response.