To study effort tolerance in elderly women with different physical activity backgrounds, 52 physically active (PA) and 42 sedentary control women (CO) aged 66-85 yr were assigned to perform cycle ergometer exercise to their volitional maximum. Oxygen uptake, respiratory exchange ratio (RER), heart rate, work power, and rate pressure product were measured to evaluate the severity of exercise. Plasma C-ANP (C-terminus of the atrial natriuretic peptide prohormone) and plasma N-ANP (N-terminus of the atrial natriuretic peptide prohormone) were analyzed as indicators of cardiac load. Eighty-one percent (N = 42) of the PA and 52% (N = 22) of CO performed the ergometer exercise. The mean peak oxygen uptake was 22.6 and 15.1 mL·kg-·min-1 among PA and CO, respectively. Twenty-two of the 42 PA and 19 of the 22 CO terminated the ergometer exercise before attaining the objective maximum. The most common reasons for termination were the subject's own wish, abnormal cardiovascular response, or lower limb tiredness. Both C-ANP and N-ANP increased after exercise. The increase in plasma C-ANP correlated significantly with a few physiological variables, whereas comparable associations with N-ANP were not found. It is concluded that inexperience of physical exertion and medical as well as physiological factors limit effort tolerance among elderly women. Differences in the response of C-ANP and N-ANP were found that are suggested to be due to differences in the postsecretory mechanisms between these hormones.