Ageing is associated with a chronic low-grade inflammatory profile (CLIP). Physical exercise could circumvent the deleterious effects of CLIP by influencing circulating inflammatory mediators and neurotrophic growth factors. This study aimed at assessing whether 12 weeks of progressive strength training (PST) influences circulating brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), interleukin (IL)-6 and IL-10 in elderly individuals. Forty community-dwelling persons aged 62–72 years participated. Twenty participants were assigned to 12-week PST (70–80 % of maximal strength, three times per week). Matched control individuals (n = 20) maintained daily activity levels. Serum was collected for BDNF, IL-6 and IL-10 assay from all participants before and after 12 weeks (for PST subjects 24–48 h after the last training). In PST, muscle strength was significantly improved (+49 % for leg extension, p = 0.039), and basal IL-6 levels significantly reduced (p = 0.001), which remained unchanged in control (p = 0.117). No significant change in BDNF was observed in PST subjects (p = 0.147) or control (p = 0.563). IL-10 was below the detection limit in most subjects. Gender and health status did not influence the results. Our results show that after 12-week PST, muscle performance improved significantly, and basal levels of IL-6 were significantly decreased in older subjects. However, serum BDNF was not altered. The lack of an observable change in BDNF might be due to a short-lived BDNF response, occurring acutely following exercise, which might have been washed out when sampling. Furthermore, blood levels of BDNF may not reflect parallel increases that occur locally in the brain and muscle. These hypotheses need confirmation by further studies.