Abstract Age-related muscle atrophy or sarcopenia results in progressive loss of muscle function and satellite cells in aging muscle are increasingly refractory to activation that could mitigate atrophy. We know that nitric oxide release triggered by mechanical stretch of skeletal muscle, initiates satellite cell activation in vitro in single fiber, single cell and whole-muscle cultures, and in vivo in animals. This study examined muscle cell activation using tritiated-thymidine incorporation into the DNA of muscle cells in cultured muscles from female mice between 6 weeks and 18 months-of-age. Experiments examined age-related changes in activation by mechanical stretch and/or NO treatments (with the substrate of nitric oxide synthase ( l-arginine), a nitric oxide donor (isosorbide dinitrate) and/or nitric oxide synthase inhibition). Activation without stretch was highest at 8 months. Stretching muscles by 10% more than doubled activation in muscles at 6 weeks of age and only a 20% stretch similarly activated cells in cultured 6-month-old muscles. Only treatment with ISDN in combination with a 20% stretch activated cell proliferation in muscles from 8-month-old mice. A nitric-oxide donor drug rescued muscle satellite cells in adult, 8-month-old mice from being refractory to mechanical stretch, apparently by overcoming an ineffective release of nitric oxide during stretch. Results suggest that treatment with nitric oxide has the potential to enhance the effectiveness of exercise in preventing the onset of age-related muscle atrophy in adult muscle.