Fifteen well-trained master endurance athletes [62.0 +/- 2.3 (SE) yr] and 14 sedentary control subjects (61.4 +/- 1.4 yr) were reevaluated after an average follow-up period of approximately 8 yr to obtain information regarding the effects of physical activity on the age-related decline in maximal O2 uptake capacity (VO2max). The master athletes had been training for 10.2 +/- 2.9 yr before initial testing and continued to train during the follow-up period. The sedentary subjects' VO2max declined by an average of 3.3 ml.kg-1.min-1 (33.9 +/- 1.7 vs. 30.6 +/- 1.6, P less than 0.001) over the course of the study, a decline of 12% per decade. In these subjects maximal heart rate declined 8 beats/min (171 vs. 163) and maximal O2 pulse decreased from 0.20 to 0.18 ml.kg-1.beat (P less than 0.05). The master athletes' VO2 max decreased by an average of 2.2 ml.kg-1.min-1 (54.0 +/- 1.7 vs. 51.8 +/- 1.8, P less than 0.05), a 5.5% decline per decade. The master athletes' maximal heart rate was unchanged (171 +/- 3 beats/min) and their maximal O2 pulse decreased from 0.32 to 0.30 ml.kg-1.beat (P less than 0.05). These findings provide evidence that the age-related decrease in VO2max of master athletes who continue to engage in regular vigorous endurance exercise training is approximately one-half the rate of decline seen in age-matched sedentary subjects. Furthermore our results suggest that endurance exercise training may reduce the rate of decline in maximal heart rate that typically occurs as an individual ages.