Reactive oxygen species and other oxidants are implicated in the mechanisms of biological ageing and exercise-induced tissue damage. The present study examined the effects of ageing and an acute bout of exercise on intracellular oxidant generation, lipid peroxidation, protein oxidation and glutathione (GSH) status in the heart and liver of young adult (8 month, N=24) and old (24 month, N=24) male Fischer 344 rats. Young rats ran on treadmill at 25 m min–1, 5% grade until exhaustion (55.4 ± 2.7 min), whereas old rats ran at 15 m min–1, 5% until exhaustion (58.0 ± 2.7 min). Rate of dichlorofluorescin (DCFH) oxidation, an indication of intracellular oxidant production, was significantly higher in the homogenates of aged heart and liver compared with their young counterparts. In the isolated heart and liver mitochondria, ageing increased oxidant production by 29 and 32% (P < 0.05), respectively. Acute exercise increased oxidant production in the aged heart but not in the liver. When nicodinamide dinucleotide phosphate (reduced), adenosine diphosphate and Fe3+ were included in the assay, DCFH oxidation rate was 47 and 34% higher (P < 0.05) in the aged heart and liver homogenates, respectively, than the young ones. The age differences in the induced state reached 83 and 140% (P < 0.01) in isolated heart and liver mitochondria, respectively. Lipid peroxidation was increased in the aged liver and exercised aged heart, whereas protein carbonyl content was elevated only in the aged heart (P < 0.05). Although our data using DCFH method probably underestimated cellular oxidant production because of time delay and antioxidant competition, it is clear that oxidative stress was enhanced in both heart and liver with old age. Furthermore, aged myocardium showed greater susceptibility to oxidative stress after heavy exercise.