The longitudinal changes in isokinetic strength of knee and elbow extensors and flexors, muscle mass, physical activity, and health were examined in 120 subjects initially 46 to 78 years old. Sixty-eight women and 52 men were reexamined after 9.7 +/- 1.1 years. The rates of decline in isokinetic strength averaged 14% per decade for knee extensors and 16% per decade for knee flexors in men and women. Women demonstrated slower rates of decline in elbow extensors and flexors (2% per decade) than men (12% per decade). Older subjects demonstrated a greater rate of decline in strength. In men, longitudinal rates of decline of leg muscle strength were approximately 60% greater than estimates from a cross-sectional analysis in the same population. The change in leg strength was directly related to the change in muscle mass in both men and women, and it was inversely related to the change in medication use in men. Physical activity declined yet was not directly associated with strength changes. Although muscle mass changes influenced the magnitude of the strength changes over time, strength declines in spite of muscle mass maintenance or even gain emphasize the need to explore the contribution of other cellular, neural, or metabolic mediators of strength changes.