To determine whether the age-related reduction in basal metabolic rate (BMR) is explained by a quantitative and/or qualitative change in the components of lean tissue, we conducted a cross-sectional study in groups of young (n = 38, 18-35 yr) and older (n = 24, 50-77 yr) healthy individuals. BMR was measured by indirect calorimetry. Body composition was obtained by using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA), which permitted four compartments to be quantified [bone mineral mass, fat mass (FM), appendicular lean tissue mass (ALTM), and nonappendicular lean tissue mass (NALTM)]. Absolute BMR and ALTM were lower, whereas FM was significantly higher in the older, compared with young, subjects. BMR, adjusted for differences in FM, ALTM, and NALTM, was significantly lower in the older subjects by 644 kJ/day. In separate regression analyses of BMR on body compartments, older subjects had significantly lower regression coefficients for ALTM and NALTM, compared with young subjects. Hence, the age-related decline in BMR is partly explained by a reduction in the quantity, as well as the metabolic activity, of DEXA-derived lean tissue components.