What is Metabolism? Why do you need a good one?

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Updated on April 7, 2024

Reviewed by Laura

Many workouts and infomercials are dedicated to showing you ways to enhance your metabolism. You’ve heard the word but may still wonder what the hype is all about. This leads to other questions, for example: how does metabolism affect your day-to-day life? What does it do to your weight? How can you use this process to help you maintain or lose weight?

It is important to understand how metabolism works and how you can get it working for you.

What Does Metabolism Mean?

Metabolism is the process your body uses to convert food into energy, according to The Mayo Clinic. This energy is used for all your functions, such as digestion, breathing, circulation, and blinking, plus the growth and repair of muscles and tissues. It also gives you energy when you exercise or clean the house.

Your body requires a certain amount of energy to maintain your basic life functions. This amount of energy, in terms of calories and metabolism, is known as your Basal Metabolic Rate, BMR. Your BMR is the number of calories your body needs to sustain your life. It is affected by a number of things, such as your weight, muscle mass, sex and your age. Your BMR is an important number to know because you want to eat enough calories to support your basic functions. When these calorie needs are not met, harsh conditions, such as anorexia, may occur.

The more you weigh, the faster your metabolism should operate in an effort to maintain your weight. The same is true for muscle tissue. An increase in muscle tissue is what speeds up metabolism. Men typically have a faster metabolism than women, as they usually have more muscle tissue. Your age is another factor that changes your metabolic rate. The older you are, the slower your metabolism is.

Does Metabolism Change?

Your BMR can decrease between one and two percent every ten years, according to the American Council on Exercise, ACE. This occurs for a few reasons. One, as you age, your muscle mass decreases and, therefore slows down your metabolic activity. As a result, your body fat typically increases, which doesn’t require as much energy to maintain as muscle, so your metabolism slows in response. Couple these changes with a decrease in physical activity, and metabolic activity takes a huge blow.

If you’re still wondering how low metabolic activity contributes to weight gain, you’re not alone. Researchers are continuously striving to understand this aspect of the human body. Dr. Len Kravitz, Associate Professor of Exercise Science at the University of New Mexico, reminds us that metabolism is a combination of hormones, genetics, age, activity and diet. Some of these factors can be changed in an effort to learn how to speed up metabolisms, such as your activity level and your eating habits. Other factors, such as your genetics, age and gender, are not subject to change. But do not despair; you can work within your limitations to safely and effectively enhance your health.

How to Enhance Metabolism

Since metabolism is primarily affected by the amount of muscle tissue your body has, you have to include strength-training exercises in your weekly routine. This doesn’t mean you have to join a gym and become a bodybuilder. You can lift free weights for exercises such as arm curls, shoulder presses, bench presses, arm extensions and deadlifts. You can also use machines for leg presses, leg extensions, bench presses, back pull-downs and arm curls, but calisthenic exercises work too. Your muscles respond to resistance, not a certain type of weight or machine.

Begin with exercises such as squats, push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups. You use the weight of your body to strengthen your muscles. Plus, your body is always with you, so that you can exercise anywhere at any time. Perform one to three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions on two or three days a week to boost your metabolism. Always include a day of rest in between workouts, so your muscles have time to repair and grow.

What is High Metabolism?

A high metabolism quickly converts your food into usable energy. The more active you are, the faster it works for you. Therefore, another way to speed it up is by performing cardiovascular and endurance activities. These large, rhythmic movements are something you can do continuously. Cardiovascular exercises include walking, swimming, cycling, skating, rowing, dancing or using an elliptical trainer at the gym.

The goal is to perform at least 30 minutes of daily cardiovascular exercise. You can do this in 10-minute bursts if needed until you build up the endurance to last for at least 30 minutes. Not only does the activity spur your metabolism into action, it also burns fat. This means that it can help you lose or maintain your weight.

Metabolism Boosting Foods

If you think your metabolism is affecting your weight, speak with a doctor to rule out any metabolic disorders such as hypothyroidism. Then, be sure the number of calories you’re eating is not more than your body is using. Weight maintenance is a delicate balance of incoming calories equaling outgoing calories. The body stores any excess calories.

Top Fitness Trainer  suggests these foods for boosting your metabolism:

  • Strawberries/ Raspberries.
  • Red Beans.
  • Green Tea.
  • Whole Grains.
  • Broccoli.
  • Garlic.

The berries may reduce the chances of your fat cells getting larger and can also prohibit some fat absorption. Both qualities boost your metabolism. Red beans increase your B vitamin intake, which gives you more energy for activity, plus beans boost testosterone, which also elevates movement and calorie-burning. The caffeine in Green Tea can jump-start a metabolism by giving you more energy too. However, caffeine should be limited to a daily intake of 400 mg. Whole grains such as barley and oats, along with the fibre from broccoli can help you feel fuller longer, which reduces your overall calorie intake. Garlic is a powerful antioxidant which boosts your immune system and supports your daily metabolic-increasing activities.

When to Eat

A diet designed to enhance metabolic activity is not only about the types of foods you eat. According to Dr. Len Kravitz,  it is also about the timing of your meals. The process of eating and digesting foods uses approximately 10 percent of your daily energy expenditure. The more frequently you eat, the more you maintain this elevation in your metabolism.

Plus, when you skip meals, your body enters starvation mode. It is not sure when you are going to provide the next meal and often begins to store all your calories as fat. This is a terrific survival technique if you are ever trapped in the wilderness, but when you don’t have to hunt for your food, which also burns calories, it can lead to weight gain.

In an effort to speed up your metabolism, aim to eat small meals every two or three hours. Choose foods that boost your energy level and keep you active. The goal is to be as active as possible.

As You Age

Although you cannot slow down time, you can slow down the effects of ageing on your metabolism. Choose to remain active and include strength training and cardiovascular exercises on your weekly schedule. Eat a healthy, well-rounded diet and aim to eat smaller, more frequent meals to keep your metabolism working for you.

Speak with your doctor if you’ve made all these changes and are still experiencing weight gain to eliminate any metabolic disorders. Also, seek guidance from a fitness trainer if you are new to exercise. Tell the trainer about your metabolism-enhancing goals, so he or she can design a program specifically for your needs.

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