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Understanding and Overcoming a Slow Metabolism

slow-metabolism

 

Metabolism is the rate at which your body uses calories and turns food into energy to sustain life and support activity. It measures the number of calories that you expend each day. If you have a fast metabolism, you burn more calories at rest and throughout the day; and those with a slower metabolism need fewer calories because they use them more slowly.

 

People with a slow metabolism often end up consuming more calories than they burn, which, over time, results in weight gain. It is less common to have a fast metabolism, which can make it challenging to keep weight on.

As a series of complex, inter-related processes, metabolism is impacted by age (slows as you get older), gender (men have a faster metabolism), body size, genetics and some medications. You can have your metabolism measured in a lab, or estimated via scientific formulas, and you may want to see your doctor to ensure that no underlying medical conditions are impacting your metabolism.

To boost your metabolism, it is important to understand what causes it to be slow or to decrease over time. Then you can directly address the root causes.

Slow Metabolism Causes and Solutions

  • Inadequate physical activity: Let’s be honest: most people don’t exercise enough on a regular basis, which results in decreased caloric expenditure. Exercise is one of the best ways to increase metabolism, ideally 3-5 times weekly for 30-60+ minutes each session.

Be sure to include cardiovascular activity such as jogging, bicycling, the elliptical trainer or stairclimber, swimming laps, kickboxing, walking and more. Cardio elevates the heart rate for more than 20 minutes and burns calories for fuel. To rev the metabolism even more, both during and after your workout, try interval training where you alternate periods of high intensity with steady-state heart rate recovery.

Add 2-3 strength training sessions weekly, using dumbbells, barbells, resistance bands and body weight to work the major muscle groups. Effective choices include squats, lunges, deadlifts, push-ups, rows, overhead press, biceps curls, triceps extensions, planks and crunches.

Finally, incorporate stretches for the big muscle groups, such as the hamstrings, quadriceps, hips, chest, upper and lower back and shoulders. Yoga is also a great way to improve flexibility.

The key is to be consistent with workouts. That doesn’t mean you can’t ever miss one, but don’t quit. Even 1-2 sessions per week are better than none. Aim to make exercise part of your daily routine so that it becomes a habit.

  • Too much sitting: In today’s society, many people have sedentary jobs where they sit all day at a computer, then drive home and lounge on the couch to watch TV. To increase your metabolism, you have to move more – not only at the gym – but in everyday activities. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) refers to the calories we burn from other movement that isn’t necessarily formal exercise, and this can account for as much as 30% of our metabolism.

So this means that we need to constantly look for ways to be more active, such as standing and walking while on the phone, doing stretches while watching TV, taking posture breaks at work, walking to someone’s desk instead of sending an email, using a standing treadmill desk, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking farther away from your destination or getting off the bus a stop early, walking or biking for errands, taking the dog for a walk, doing vigorous housework, pulling weeds and much more. Studies have shown that people who frequently fidget actually burn more calories than those who sit still.

Invest in an activity tracker as motivation, set some goals and take a walk at lunchtime or after dinner to meet them. Go bowling instead of to a movie, or join a friend for a walk rather than at the coffee shop. Use your imagination. All activity adds up and makes a difference.

Inadequate caloric intake: Of course, this sounds counter-intuitive, in that not eating enough can slow your metabolism. But it has to do with the frequency of eating, and ensuring that your blood sugar remains stable with a steady supply of calories. When we skip meals or embark on a very low-calorie diet, our bodies enter a “semi-starvation” mode, because they sense insufficient fuel supplies. As a way of self-preservation, the metabolism slows down.

That doesn’t mean you should binge, although that’s often what happens after you miss meals. In fact, research shows that people who skip breakfast tend to have a slower metabolism and don’t save any daily calories because they compensate by eating more throughout the day. The best way to keep your metabolism humming along is to eat at regular intervals throughout the day, including three meals and low-calorie snacks, such as fruit and vegetables, as necessary. Some experts recommend eating every 4-5 hours to keep your metabolism stoked.

  • Dehydration: It’s hard to imagine that anyone these days is dehydrated, with all the water bottles and coffee cups we are always toting. But dehydration is common, and can slow your metabolism. Remember that caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea and soda, as well as alcohol, are diuretics, and thereby can lead to dehydration.

Choose water more often between meals, at your desk and in the car. Dehydration also can lead to eating more, so being properly hydrated can minimize consumption of extra calories as well!

  • Rapid weight loss: Unfortunately, when we diet, our metabolism often decreases, as our bodies adjust over time to fewer calories. Following crash diets and unsound eating plans exacerbates the problem, as these have minimal calories and starve the body, leading to a drop in metabolism. Studies have shown that people who repeatedly gain and lose weight have a slower metabolism from this yo-yo dieting cycle than those who have never dieted.

Another complication with rapid weight loss is that the body loses muscle mass, and muscle is a large part of metabolic rate. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, but if you decrease your muscle mass with a radical diet, you won’t need as many calories anymore. To maintain metabolism when you are trying to lose weight, do strength training regularly to preserve muscle mass. And ensure that you are consuming enough lean protein to build muscles. Every pound of muscle uses six calories a day to sustain itself, while each pound of fat burns only two calories daily.

  • Hormone fluctuations: Thyroid hormones influence metabolic rate, and hypothyroidism leads to a slower metabolism. Other hormones, such as ghrelin and leptin control appetite and affect hunger. And when we’re stressed, we produce more cortisol, which can lead to an increase in eating and belly fat. In addition, women experience hormonal changes in estrogen and progesterone during child-bearing years and menopause, which impacts metabolism.

Seeing your physician for hormone testing is a smart solution, and medication is available to help regulate some hormones. Also, be sure to practice some form of stress management, such as yoga, meditation or prayer, which can help keep you feeling better and your hormones better balanced.

While it’s true that much is out of our control, these steps are helpful to increase our metabolism!

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