Healthy ageing and alterations in respiratory–sympathetic coupling have been independently linked with heightened sympathetic neural vasoconstrictor activity. We investigated how age influences the respiratory-related modulation of muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA) and the association between the rhythmic fluctuations in MSNA and blood pressure that occur with respiration (Traube–Hering waves; THW). Ten young (22 ± 2 years; mean ± SD) and 10 older healthy men (58 ± 6 years) were studied while resting supine and breathing spontaneously. MSNA, blood pressure and respiration were recorded simultaneously. Resting values were ascertained and respiratory cycle-triggered averaging of MSNA and blood pressure measurements performed. The MSNA burst incidence was higher in older individuals [22.7 ± 9.2 versus 42.2 ± 13.7 bursts (100 heart beats)−1, P < 0.05], and was reduced to a similar extent in the inspiratory to postinspiratory period in young and older subjects (by ∼25% compared with mid- to late expiration). A similar attenuation of MSNA burst frequency (in bursts per minute), amplitude and total activity (burst frequency × mean burst amplitude) was also observed in the inspiratory to postinspiratory period in both groups. A significant positive correlation between respiratory-related MSNA and the magnitude of Traube–Hering waves was observed in all young (100%) and most older subjects (80%). These data suggest that the strength of the cyclical inhibition of MSNA during respiration is similar between young and older individuals; thus, alterations in respiratory–sympathetic coupling appear not to contribute to the age-related elevation in MSNA. Furthermore, central respiratory–sympathetic coupling plays a role in the generation of Traube–Hering waves in both healthy young and older humans.