Coping with a Slowing Metabolism

Most of us, particularly if we struggle with our weight loss, tend to blame our metabolism: “It’s too slow.” We often target it as a common weight-loss enemy without truly knowing the factors that play into our metabolism.

3 Major Things that Determine Our Metabolism

  1. Basal metabolic rate (BMR): Tells you the number of calories needed to maintain your body in a rested, fasting state. It’s affected by your gender, age, size, muscle mass, genetics and health-related factors. Your BMR accounts for 60-70% of the total calories you burn each day.
  2. Activity level: Tells you the number of calories you use up during exercise. Your activity level accounts for about 20% of the total calories you burn each day.
  3. Food thermogenesis: Tells you the number of calories you need to digest and absorb your food. It accounts for about 10% of the total calories you burn each day.

Anything that affects these three would change the amount of calories you need to maintain your body weight. Your basal metabolic rate is adaptable, and it will increase or decrease to provide for your body’s needs e.g.

  • Your metabolism speeds up and burns more calories during a fever or infection to help you heal.
  • Your metabolism slows down and burns less calories during a long fast to conserve calories and prevent you from wasting away.

How Ageing Affects Metabolism

If you’re a healthy adult, your metabolism is probably okay. Instead of blaming thyroid diseases or some other “condition”, you should consider how ageing slows metabolism.

Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed the weight-gain trends of 120,000 participants for up to 20 years. Scientists found that participants gained about 1.5 kilograms each over a four-year period, which translates to a gain of 7.6 kilograms over 20 years.

The biggest issue isn’t so much the weight gain, but the type of weight we tend to gain as we age; most of us tend to lose lean muscle mass and correspondingly replace it with fat. Having a protective amount of fat is a good thing, especially when we hit an older age, which is why adults aged 65 and older are advised to maintain a BMI between 25 to 27, instead of the 18.5 to 24.9 recommendation for the rest of us.

Our goal should be to maintain as much lean muscle mass as possible since doing so would…

  • Stop your BMR from declining. It has been shown time and again that BMR naturally decreases as we age. But, if you can maintain or build upon the muscle mass that you have, you’ll have a higher BMR (compared to if you took no action).
  • Preserve your muscles’ ability to propel you through all of life’s activities. Even if you don’t care about your metabolism, aim to maintain and build muscle because this allows you to live your life to the fullest. Muscles are involved in every movement you make, from playing with your child to carrying a load of groceries.

Ways to Combat a Slowing Metabolism

  1. Strength train at least 2-3 times per week (this is critical). Prioritise weight lifting in your exercise plan as adding muscle mass increases your BMR, allowing you to burn more calories even when you’re not exercising.
  2. Up the intensity of your aerobic exercise (think running, swimming, biking faster). Exercising at higher intensities allows you to reap the benefits of “after burn,” a phenomena where you burn extra calories post-exercise.
  3. Eat enough protein from high-quality sources. High-quality protein sources supply amino acids to your muscles post-exercise so that they can repair and grow.
  4. Stay well hydrated. Water is important because all of the chemical reactions in your body requires water.
  5. Don’t starve yourself in order to lose weight. You need to consume a moderate amount of calories in order to lose weight. If you eat a significantly low amount of calories, you’ll lose weight rapidly but much of it will be from water and muscle loss.

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