Lifelong exercise, but not short-term high-intensity interval training, increases GDF11, a marker of successful aging: a preliminary investigation

Physiol Rep. 2017 Jul;5(13):e13343. doi: 10.14814/phy2.13343. Epub 2017 Jul 11.


Lifelong exercise is associated with regulation of skeletal mass and function, reductions in frailty, and successful aging. Yet, the influence of exercise on myostatin and myostatin-interacting factors is relatively under examined in older males. Therefore, we investigated whether serum total myostatin, free myostatin, follistatin, and growth and differentiation factor 11 (GDF11) were altered following high-intensity interval training (HIIT) in a group of 13 lifelong sedentary (SED; 64 [6] years) and 11 lifelong exercising (LEX; 62 [6] years) older males. SED follistatin was moderately greater than LEX pre-HIIT (Cohen's d = 0.66), and was largely greater post-HIIT (Cohen's d = 1.22). The HIIT-induced increase in follistatin was large in SED (Cohen's d = 0.82) and absent in LEX (Cohen's d = 0.03). GDF11 was higher in LEX pre-HIIT (Cohen's d = 0.49) and post-HIIT (Cohen's d = 0.63) compared to SED HIIT resulted in no change to GDF11 in LEX or SED (Cohen's d = 0.00-0.03). Peak power output and GDF11 were correlated (r = 0.603), independent of grouping. Differences in GDF11 with lifelong exercise training, paired with the correlation between GDF11 and peak power output, suggested that GDF11 may be a relevant myostatin-interacting peptide to successful aging in humans, and strategies to maintain this need to be further explored.

Keywords: HIIT; Aging; GDF11; exercise; follistatin; myostatin.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / blood*
  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins / blood*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Growth Differentiation Factors / blood*
  • High-Intensity Interval Training*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Myostatin / blood*


  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins
  • GDF11 protein, human
  • Growth Differentiation Factors
  • MSTN protein, human
  • Myostatin