A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

5 facts about metabolism

If you are trying to lose weight, you may be trying to find ways to speed up your metabolism.

Metabolism is a chemical process that converts our food into energy to maintain life.

Two men go jogging together.

Staying active as you age may help keep a healthy metabolism.

With regards to their metabolism, many people worry about how fast or slow it is. Chrisanne Urban, Marshfield Clinic Health System registered dietitian, sets the record straight on what you should know about metabolism to help you stay healthy.

Metabolic rate changes with age

As you age, your metabolism naturally slows down. This can be due to not being as active as you were as a child or adolescent and having less muscle mass.

If you are consuming more calories than your body is burning on a daily basis, you might gain excess weight from a slowing metabolism. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle as you age may help keep your weight from creeping up on you because of slower metabolism.

Move your body

Exercise can look different for everyone. Some of Urban’s clients are advised just to move 200 steps a day, but no matter what, activity is important.

“You have to start somewhere,” she said. “And once you start, you will reach a plateau, and then you have to take it to the next level.”

The calories you burn while exercising will depend on the intensity of your activity. Studies have shown certain exercises continue to burn calories even after you stopped the activity. Your metabolism may increase if you increase your daily activity.

Contact your primary care provider whenever you start a new exercise program. You need to make sure the exercise is safe for you and your health.

Fat vs. muscle

Some people assume because you are thin, you have a higher metabolism than someone who is overweight. Untrue.

A larger person requires more energy thus burns more calories than a smaller person.

However, fat is not an efficient fuel burner compared to muscle. If you have more muscle mass on your body, you may have a faster metabolism.

“Once you start gaining weight, it’s a more inefficient fuel burner,” Urban said.

Foods influence our metabolism

Eating habits can affect your metabolism, but it may not be how you think.

Some people suggest eating breakfast, fasting for periods of time, or eating late can speed up or slow down your metabolism. That is not always true.

“There’s conflicting research about eating breakfast to speed up your metabolism,” Urban said. “Breakfast is the most important meal; it’s fuel for your brain. However, it’s better to establish healthy eating habits overall than depending on breakfast to jump start your metabolism.”

Urban encourages you to focus on the type and amount of calories you are consuming in a day.

Fasting is a broad term. Depending on how you fast, each way could be different when it comes to your metabolism. Instead of fasting, Urban said some studies suggest eating smaller meals every three to four hours may boost your metabolism. But, she said keep in mind the total number of calories. Institute of Medicine’s dietary guidelines for 2015-2020 provide the amount of calories needed based on age and activity level.

Consult a dietitian or nutritionist if you are concerned about your eating habits.

Don’t compare yourself

Age, activity level, calories consumed, genetics and hormones – all can affect our metabolism. With healthy, balanced eating habits and regular activity, you can sustain a healthy life.

“We all have different metabolisms,” Urban said. “We are all different ­– hair color, eye color, shapes and sizes. Many factors can affect metabolism. The main thing is don’t compare yourself to someone else. Focus on you and your health.”

  1. Oct 15, 2020
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