In last week’s column, we defined metabolism, discussed the benefits of raising one’s resting metabolic rate and highlighted the ways in which having a higher muscle mass boosts metabolism. Below are some tips which can help us achieve that goal, and increase our overall health and well-being.
Tips for Raising Your Metabolism
1. Build Lean Body Mass
As mentioned in last week’s column, metabolism slows as we age, by as much as 2% a year! But there is something you can do to counterbalance nature. “Muscle is the single most important predictor of how well you metabolize your food, how well you burn calories and burn body fat,” insists Shari Lieberman, author of Dare to Lose. Strength training with dumbbells or resistance bands at least twice a week is essential to boosting your metabolism. Repeat – essential. And here’s the really good news: Your metabolism stays pumped for many hours after you finish your workout.
2. Get Moving
You’ve heard it before, but here’s a reminder. At least 30 to 60 minutes of walking, jogging, cycling, swimming or some other form of aerobic exercise, most days of the week, is the other half of the exercise equation. “People don’t like to hear it, but you have got to exercise,” says Lieberman.
It may sound crazy to those trying to lose weight by severely restricting their daily caloric intake, but the problem with this old school of thought, explains Michigan dietician Julie Beyer, is that it actually slows metabolism. “Every cell of the body is like a flashlight bulb,” she explains. “When our bodies don’t get enough food, or fuel, every cell burns less brightly.” Recent studies indicate that eating smaller meals every three to four hours aids metabolism and weight loss.
4. Cut Down on Sugar
Of course, you still have to make good choices about what you eat. “When you eat sugar, you throw your metabolic switch into fat storage mode,” says Lieberman, who suggests a predominately low glycemic index diet, meaning foods that, unlike sugars, are broken down gradually to help maintain an even blood-sugar level. Remember that whole grain foods are broken down slowly compared to refined grains. We have already pointed out in previous articles that the most recent research shows that all artificial sweeteners will play tricks with the way you metabolize sugars. The results are weight gain in the long term and more of a tendency towards diabetes.
5. Don’t Skip Breakfast
It’s a fact that people who eat a healthy breakfast are skinnier than people who don’t. And try to think outside the cereal box. A breakfast bowl of vegetables and brown rice is a great way to kick-start your metabolism for the day.
6. Include Hot Foods
If Mexican and Thai are favorites, you’re in luck. “Spicy food that has hot peppers in it appears to boost metabolism,” Lieberman says. There is also nothing like some hot Yemenite s’chug made from hot peppers to make things hot and spicy.
7. Drink Green Tea
“There are unhealthy things that can boost your metabolism, like a really strong cup of coffee, or nicotine, but I would never say ‘Go have a cigarette!’” says Michelle Streif, a personal trainer in Nebraska. Don’t overdo it on caffeine, which also has undesirable side effects. Instead, go for green tea, says Lieberman, which is known to stimulate metabolism longer and more effectively than coffee.
8. Don’t Forget H2O
Staying well hydrated is essential to flushing the body of toxic byproducts that are released when fat is burned. Cold water may be best since it gives your metabolism at least a small boost because energy is required to heat the body.
9. Reduce Stress (at all costs!)
“Stress can actually cause weight gain, particularly around the tummy,” says Lieberman. Why? Because physical and emotional stress activates the release of cortisol, a steroid that slows metabolism.
Research shows that people who don’t sleep for seven to eight hours a night are more prone to weight gain. Additionally, we now know that lean muscle is regenerated in the final couple of hours of sleep each night, says Beyer – which takes you right back to tip number one!
One of the most accurate ways to measure metabolism is through indirect calorimetry. This is where a person fasts for 12 hours and then enters a metabolic chamber. The amount of oxygen consumed by a person is measured and that tells us how many calories are burned. Obviously, this is not a very practical option for most people. An easier, although less accurate way, is to find a metabolic calculator on the Internet and plug in your height, weight and activity levels. It will calculate the number of calories you need to consume per day to sustain your present weight.
The Weight Loss Factor
Many people have come to me over the years, particularly people over the age of 40, who are already exercising and eating less, but they just can’t lose weight and reach their desired goals. In almost each case, I have found three factors that stand out from amongst the rest. First, in almost every case, there is not enough exercise time spent on resistance training, either with weights or bands. Second – and this is primarily true of middle-aged women, they are trying to lose weight by consuming too few calories. Besides slowing down their metabolism, it also prevents them from meeting their daily nutrition requirements. And third is the sleep factor. Lack of sleep can also activate the hormone cortisol, which both slows your metabolism and can cause you to reach for sugary and fatty foods, defeating the whole purpose of the weight loss goal.
Incorporate as many of the above tips as possible into your daily habits, and you’ll begin to see changes – some subtle and some more pronounced – almost immediately. Remember: keeping your resting metabolic rate high is another way to “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”