Influence of aerobic capacity, body composition, and thyroid hormones on the age-related decline in resting metabolic rate

E. T. Poehlman, E. M. Berke, J. R. Joseph, A. W. Gardner, S. M. Katzman-Rooks, M. I. Goran

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90 Scopus citations


It has been suggested that changes in fat-free weight may not fully explain the decline of resting metabolic rate (RMR) that occurs with aging. We therefore examined the hypothesis that a reduction in maximal aerobic capacity (Vo2max) may partially explain the lower RMR in older men, after accounting for differences in fat-free weight and fat weight. We also considered differences in energy intake and plasma thyroid hormones as possible modulators of the age-related decline in RMR in men. Three-hundred healthy men (aged 17 to 78 years) were characterized for: (1) RMR (kcal/min) from indirect calorimetry; (2) body composition from underwater weighing; (3) maximal aerobic capacity from a test of Vo2max; (4) plasma thyroid hormones (total triiodothyronine [T3], free T3, total thyroxine [T4], and free T4); and (5) estimated energy intake (kcal/d) from a 3-day food diary. A curvilinear decline of RMR with age was found (P < .01), in which no relationship was found in men less than 40 years of age (r = .10, slope = 0.002 kcal/min/yr), whereas in men older than 40 years, RMR was negatively related to age (r = -.52, slope = -0.008 kcal/min/yr). After statistical control for differences in fat-free weight and fat weight, a negative relationship between age and RMR persisted (partial r = -.30, P < .01). It was only after control for fat-free weight, fat weight, and Vo2max (partial r = -.10, P > .05) that no association between age and RMR was noted. When subgroups of younger and older individuals were paired for age and fat-free weight, but different Vo2max values, a higher RMR was noted in the trained younger (8%) and trained older men (11%) compared with untrained younger and older men, respectively. Thyroid hormones and daily energy intake were negatively related to age on a univariate basis, but no independent association was noted after control for fat-free weight. We conclude that, in addition to the loss of fat-free weight, the decline in Vo2max is an additional factor associated with the decline of RMR in aging men. Age-related changes in energy intake, fat weight, and thyroid hormones appear to be less important in explaining the reduction of RMR in aging men. Maintenance of fat-free weight and Vo2max by regular physical activity may attenuate the age-related RMR in healthy men.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)915-921
Number of pages7
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1992

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology


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