A crash course on metabolism basics
By Jenilee Matz, MPH
Most people know that a fast metabolism aids weight loss. And while your metabolism is directly related to your ability to lose weight, don't jump to blame your metabolism for weight gain — very few people actually have a medical condition that causes their metabolism to slow down. Here are some basic facts about your metabolism — including how to rev it up, and how much it really affects your waistline.
Metabolism is the body's biochemical process of converting what you eat and drink into energy. Your body needs energy to work properly. Breathing, circulating blood, growing and repairing cells and other bodily functions all require energy.
The number of calories your body needs to support these basic functions is called your basal metabolic rate (BMR). Each person's BMR is different. Your personal BMR is based on:
- Your body size and make up. Larger individuals and those with more muscle mass burn more calories, even when resting.
- Your sex. Men typically burn more calories than women because they tend to have less body fat and more muscle mass.
- Your age. Starting around age 40, you begin to lose muscle mass so the number of calories you burn at rest decreases.
Your hormones and genetics also play a part in determining your BMR.
The Secret to a Fast Metabolism
Having a faster metabolism helps you lose weight. So what's the secret for kicking your metabolism into high gear? Well, there's no quick fix, says James Beckerman, MD, a cardiologist with the Providence Heart and Vascular Institute at St. Vincent's Hospital in Portland, Oregon, and MedHelp's weight loss expert. It really comes down to burning more calories than your body takes in each day.
"If there was a secret, everyone would find it," Beckerman says. "And if a fix seems quick, it usually doesn't last. Exercising more and eating healthier take work — for all of us."
6 Steps to Rev Up Your Metabolism
Being overweight is usually the result of eating more calories than you burn. Following these six steps can give your metabolism a boost and help you meet your weight loss goals:
- Take in enough calories. Consuming too few calories will only hurt your metabolism. Crash diets cause your body to go into starvation mode, meaning your metabolism actually slows down so your body can conserve fat.
- Eat more often. Eating 5 to 6 small meals throughout the day instead of 3 large ones will keep your metabolism up. Eating this way will also help keep your cravings satisfied, and you'll be less likely to overeat later.
- Consume enough protein. Eating protein helps you maintain and build muscle mass, which boosts your metabolism.
- Drink plenty of water. Your body needs water to process calories. Dehydration can cause your metabolism to slow down. Shoot for 8 glasses of H2O each day.
- Strength train regularly. Resistance exercises like lifting weights help to combat muscle loss associated with aging. The more muscle you have, the higher your BMR will be.
- Move more. Every time you do cardiovascular exercise, like running, biking or brisk walking, your metabolism stays elevated for a few hours after the workout. Hitting the gym regularly will boost your metabolism and trim your waistline. Don't sweat it if you can't make it to the gym — everyday activities like taking the stairs or doing housework also burn calories and help keep your metabolism active. And if you work at an office or in a job where you sit most of the day, take a quick break every hour to walk across the office or stand and stretch. Prolonged sitting puts your metabolism in "sleep" mode. Even small movements will help keep your metabolism humming.
Published January 31, 2012.
Jenilee is a medical writer, health educator and triathlete based in Charlotte, NC.