ProMedica Wellness Dietitian Kinsy McNamee, MS, RD, LD, isn’t so quick to blame weight gain and obesity on slow metabolism. While she agrees that a slow metabolism is no fun, she says, “people who want to lose weight should be aware there are things they can do to help themselves.”
Simply put: Metabolism is the process by which the body transforms what you eat and drink into energy, McNamee says. Your basic metabolic rate is the number of calories your body uses for circulating blood, breathing and repairing cells.
What affects your metabolism?
McNamee says there are three factors:
- Body size and composition: If you weigh more or have more muscle mass, you will burn more calories. Men typically have more muscle mass than women of the same age, so they burn more calories.
- Age: As you get older, your muscle mass decreases, which slows down the rate at which you burn calories.
- Activity level: How active you are during the day has a BIG influence on metabolic rate.
A slowing metabolism could be the result of different factors.
“It could be genetics,” McNamee says. “Some people are born with slower metabolisms than others so there’s nothing they can do. For others, it could be that they simply are less active as they get older, which leads to loss of lean body mass, which slows down metabolism. Also, for women, menopause is a factor.”
“After menopause, fat tends to build up around the abdomen, which increases the likelihood of heart disease and diabetes,” McNamee says. “However, people can do a lot to help themselves.”
Changing your metabolism
To kick up your metabolism, McNamee advises eating the number of healthy calories appropriate for your body (too few can slow the metabolism while too many can cause weight gain), increasing activity and getting enough sleep:
Diet: Nutrient-dense foods, including lots of fruits and vegetables and foods high in protein can impact your metabolism, says McNamee. This kind of diet encourages the body to produce muscle tissue. At least 4 ounces of protein for each of the three meals is very important. “Vitamins are fine, too,” she says, “but people should not think they make up for a bad diet.”
Exercise can also help. “Most people should be doing at least 30 minutes a day of cardiovascular activity,” McNamee says. “Around menopause, women should increase that to 60 minutes a day.” Also, strength training is very important to build muscle and to keep the muscle from turning to fat, she adds.
Sleep makes a difference, too. McNamee says most healthy adults need from 7.5 to 9 hours each night. When a person is sleep-deprived, he/she is not getting enough leptin, which is the hormone that kicks in to let you know you’ve had enough to eat.
Genetics and aging may play a role in metabolism, but that doesn’t mean that people can’t positively influence weight and health. McNamee stresses, “Just set some goals and stick to them. Be sure to keep moving!”