Keep your metabolism humming

So, what exactly is your metabolism, and why does it matter?

Metabolism is the process your body uses to turn what you eat and drink into energy. Put simply, your basal metabolic rate the number of calories your body needs to carry out its daily functions – walking and talking, for instance, as well as necessary and hidden functions, such as breathing, blood circulation, and growing and repairing cells. There are factors that affect your metabolism over which you have little control, such as:

  • Age: Your metabolism slows down by roughly 5 percent per decade after age 40, because muscle mass decreases as we age.
  • Gender: Men typically have more active metabolism.
  • Muscle: If you’re naturally more muscular, your metabolism is probably more active.
  • Heredity: Sometimes, it’s just about what you were born with.

Many people believe their metabolism, or seeming lack of one, is the primary reason for weight loss or gain. But the reality is that diet and exercise have the greatest effect on gaining or losing weight: if you eat more than you’re working off, you’re going to gain weight. There are, however, minor adjustments you can make throughout your day that may help your body, and your metabolism, do its job more efficiently.

  • Give strength training a try. Muscle burns more calories than fat, so strength training, such as lifting weights, makes sense – especially after age 40 – to help build muscle mass.
  • Don’t skip breakfast (or any meal). When you rise in the morning, your level of cortisol – a hormone that helps you use calories to build muscle – is at its peak level. When you eat your first meal of the day, your body is ready and raring to go – and turns those calories into muscle. Take advantage – more muscle translates to more calories burned.
  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals or snacks. Too many hours in between meals can slow down your metabolism. Instead of the old-school three squares a day, consider eating smaller meals more frequently to keep your body accustomed to burning calories.
  • Spice things up. Some studies show that consuming spicy food can boost your metabolism by about 20 percent for 30 minutes.
  • Move and groove. Sit in a cubicle or office for eight hours a day? Get up and move. Even if you’re an exercise buff, sitting all day can slow down your metabolism. Be sure to get up and stretch or stroll frequently.
  • Add protein. Protein requires roughly 25 percent more energy to digest, so eating a high-protein snack or meal may give your metabolism a bump. Healthy protein suggestions include lean beef and pork, fish, chicken, tofu, nuts, beans, eggs and low-fat dairy products.
  • Exercise in the evening. Exercising roughly two hours before bedtime can help crank up your metabolism while you sleep. Normally, while you’re catching your z’s, your body slows down this process by as much as 15 percent. So instead of parking yourself in front of the TV or computer after dinner, take your dog for a walk, ride your bicycle or hop on the treadmill. For some, exercising too close to bedtime can make sleeping difficult, so find what works for you.