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Keywords:

  • Gerontology;
  • Aging;
  • Methodology;
  • Biological age;
  • Body composition

Abstract

The field of gerontology is remarkably diverse; yet there has been relatively little investigation of physical anthropological issues in aging research. This review explores gerontologic topics of actual and/or potential interest to physical anthropologists. The evolution of aging presents a theoretical dilemma in that postreproductively expressed traits may be outside the influence of natural selection. The physiological changes of aging comprise a diversified mosaic of physical deterioration as would be expected from an evolutionary model. Studies of prehistoric aging are limited to estimating lifespan, which may not be indicative of rate of aging. Considerable attention has been devoted to body composition and aging, and notable findings include a loss of lean tissue with age and relatively constant (though redistributing) fat mass. Osteoporosis is a major problem of aging in females, as is tooth loss in both sexes. The study of variation in rates of aging is only beginning, and a number of approaches to measuring biological age in adulthood are presented. Determining the associations of lifestyle, economic, and nutritional status with biological age may reveal sources of variation in rates of aging and may be of practical importance.