But contrary to common belief, a slow metabolism is rarely the one and only cause of creeping weight gain. Your diet and exercise are equally important factors that influence how well your metabolic engine runs.
Metabolism is the process by which your body converts everything you consume into energy.
During this complex biochemical process, calories from what you consume are combined with oxygen to release the energy your body needs to function.
Even when you are at rest, your body needs energy for involuntary functions, such as breathing, circulating blood and adjusting hormone levels. The number of calories your body spends to carry out these basic functions is known as your basal metabolic rate (BMR), or what you might call metabolism.
Several factors determine your individual basal metabolism:
- Your body size and composition: In general, the larger/more muscular you are, the faster your metabolism.
- Your age: Muscle mass shrinks with age. As we grow older, muscle shrinkage causes our metabolism to slow down.
- Your sex: On average, men have 30-40% more muscle mass than women. Muscle consumes more energy than fat, which accounts for a higher metabolic rate.
Metabolism, lifestyle & weight
Weight gain is a complicated process. It’s likely caused by a combination of genetic makeup, hormones, diet. Then there is also the impact of the environment on your lifestyle, including physical activity, stress level and sleep.
All of these factors affect the balance between your calorie input and calorie output.
In theory, you gain weight when you have more calorie input than less calorie output. In reality, many other lifestyle factors interfere with the process of weight loss.
Working adults may find it challenging to follow through with any form of diet and exercise, especially if work requires them to travel more and sleep less. For parents of young children, diet and exercise often take a backseat to errands, school events and visits to the doctor.
Even the most committed dieter may find many aspects of weight loss beyond her control. This includes the speed and ease at which weight is lost, and the inability to lose stubborn fat in some areas of the body.
All of these shouldn’t discourage you from making an effort. It is never too early to too late to making incremental changes to your nutrition and fitness. Here are some suggestions you can implement that, with time, will make a world of difference to your metabolism and overall health.
(For cases of unintentional and sudden weight gain caused by medical conditions such as a hyperactive thyroid and fluid retention, please refer to a doctor for medical advice.)
A closer look at physical activity and metabolism
You can’t control the speed of your basal metabolism, but you can control how many calories you burn through physical activity.
The concept of exercise may sound intimidating for some of us who have never been to the gym. Fortunately, you don’t have to commit to a sport or gym membership to be physically active. Don’t underestimate the impact of even walking for 30 minutes a day.
Consider these exercises for improving your metabolism:
- Regular anaerobic exercise: Anaerobic exercises easily doable. An example is high intensity interval training (HIIT). HIIT often involves quick bursts of easy calisthenic exercises like sit-ups, lunges and pushups, which can be done in the comfort of your home. Studies also reveal that HIIT continues to burn fat long even after your workout is over.
- Strength training: As we age, we lose muscle. Sedentary people may lose 3-5% of their muscle mass with each passing decade. And muscle loss is associated with a slowing metabolism, simply because muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue does. Experts recommend strength training exercises like jumping jacks at least twice a week, as they serve to counteract muscle loss.
- Walking: Walking may seem trivial, but it has tremendous benefits. In addition to powering up your metabolism, walking regulates your blood sugar levels and your risk of chronic diseases. It even restores your digestion and appetite. There are always opportunities to be mobile a few minutes each day; start with taking the stairs and parking farther away from your destination. Even day-to-day activities such as household chores count!
How you eat and what you eat matters
Consider these eating guidelines to improve your metabolism and overall health:
- Have at least 3 meals a day: Dieting isn’t about starving. Your body needs its daily calorie requirements to function well – this applies to the functioning of your metabolism as well. Restricting your calories unnaturally can actually slow your metabolism by forcing your body into starvation mode. This is where your body becomes less disposed to metabolise fat.
- Portion control: Most people overeat up to 1500 calories a day. In addition to having more calories, large portions can make us underestimate how full we are, and how much we’re consuming. Here’s a quick guide for portion control:
- A closed fist equals a serving of fruit
- A cupped hand equals a serving of cereal or grains
- Two cupped handfuls equal a serving of leafy green vegetables
- An open palm equals a serving of meat.
- Protein: A study found that people were likely to eat 440 fewer calories per day when protein made up 30% of their diet. Eating more protein also reverses the muscle loss that occurs as you lose overall body weight. But take certain forms of protein in moderation: Red and processed meats are notorious for causing obesity. You should aim to eat 0.8–1.3 gram of protein per kg in body weight. This amounts to:
- 56–91 grams per day for the average male.
- 46–75 grams per day for the average female.
The bottom line
There’s no easy and standard method of losing weight.
Nonetheless, effective weight loss is still based on the same timeless principles. No holistic weight loss plan can be successful without healthy eating and exercise habits. The best benefits that come from living more healthily extend beyond your metabolism. You’ll also be doing a favour for your overall cardiovascular health, energy levels and mood.
Have a healthy tip to share with us? Leave them in the comments below!