We measured serum GH responses to a standardized circuit of resistance exercise in 12 young subjects (6 men and 6 women; 27 +/- 1.6 yr old) and in 11 elders (6 men and 5 women; 72 +/- 0.8 yr old). Initial assessment of strength [1 repetition maximum (1RM)] was made of 12 muscle groups using Nautilus equipment. One week later, subjects carried out the exercise protocol, 3 sets of 8 repetitions for each of the 12 exercises, at 70% of predetermined 1RM values. Venous blood was drawn at baseline, after each exercise, and every 2 min during 10 min of recovery. In young subjects serum immunoreactive GH rose by completion of the second exercise, increased and remained elevated through the remainder of the exercise period, and decreased toward baseline by 10 min of recovery. In the elderly subjects, baseline GH values were similar to those in the young (1.76 +/- 0.41 vs. 2.61 +/- 0.73 micrograms/L) and did not increase above 6 micrograms/L at any time during or after exercise. Exercise increased GH in both groups, but peak values (14.9 +/- 3.5 micrograms/L in young; 2.44 +/- 0.6 micrograms/L in old) and integrated (198 +/- 47 in young; 37.8 +/- 0.8 in old) were significantly greater in the young subjects (P less than 0.05). GH responses showed no gender difference in either group. Brief increases in pulse rate were observed during individual exercises, but sustained elevations did not occur. To assess the effect of exercise intensity on GH response, we compared responses to exercise at 70% and 85% of 1RM in 7 young and 11 older people. In the young subjects, GH responses were nonsignificant at 60% and increased progressively at 70% and 85% of 1RM. No significant effect of exercise intensity was observed in the older subjects. We conclude that resistance exercise promptly elevates circulating GH concentrations in healthy young adults. This response is related to the intensity of the resistance stimulus, although a small contribution of aerobic stress cannot be excluded. The GH response to resistance activity is grossly diminished in healthy elderly men and women.