Basically, a person’s metabolism is their internal power plant – it keeps them alive and kicking. It operates at a speed that varies from individual to individual. People who have a slow metabolism usually eat more calories than they need and which their body stores as fat for when times are hard. Those with a fast metabolism, on the other hand, burn all the calories they consume and so are less likely to have a fatty body. This explains why some lucky people can eat whatever they like without gaining weight while others pile it on.
Let’s take a closer look at this issue of metabolism, explain why it varies between people, and see ways that you can speed up your own metabolism so as to burn more calories.
What Is Metabolism Precisely?
Metabolism is a term used to describe the combination of biochemical processes that our bodies employ to convert food into energy. The faster it runs, the more calories needed to maintain it at that speed and vice versa.
The speed at which a person’s metabolism operates is known as their metabolic rate. Basically, it’s the amount of calories they burn in a set period of time.
Factors That Affect Metabolic Rate
There are a number of factors that affect our metabolic rate. These include how old we are, how much muscle we have, the size of our body, our environment, the amount of physical activity we do, and how much fat we carry on our body. The older a person is, the slower their metabolic rate will be – this is the main reason that most people put on weight as they get older.
The more muscle this person has, i.e. their muscle mass, the higher their metabolic rate and so the more calories they burn. Similarly, the bigger their body, the more calories they need to fuel it. Everytime this person engages in physical activity of any type, their metabolic rate rises and they will burn more calories. If the person is exposed to cold, he/she has to burn more calories to stay warm – again, their metabolic rate is affected.
Another factor, and a very important one, is the amount of body fat a person carries. Research shows that overweight people have faster metabolisms than people of normal weight. This is because the larger the body (whatever the reason), the more energy it needs to carry out basic bodily functions.
Then there is genetics. This is not a factor in metabolic rate as such – it’s actually more of a base starting point – nature dictates our metabolic rate at birth. And, being genetically generated, it’s completely beyond our control.
Metabolic adaptation (also known as starvation mode) is a crucial factor in the gaining and losing of weight. Put simply, it is the body’s response to lack of calories. When we don’t take in enough calories, our body compensates by reducing its metabolic rate and thus the amount of calories it needs for its basic functions.
The extent to which it does this varies considerably from individual to individual but is greater in people who are overweight.
Methods of Increasing Metabolic Rate
As we have seen, losing weight involves more than simply reducing calorie intake. To do it with the maximum possible effectiveness requires a strategy, or strategies, that will boost the metabolism.
Here are several ways of doing this:
- Get eight hours of sleep – eight hours of deep, unbroken sleep is absolutely critical for good health. It gives the body a breathing space in which to recover from the travails of the day. Lack of it limits the body’s ability to repair and maintain itself. Part and parcel of this is metabolic rate – lack of sleep, or poor quality sleep, causes it to drop. Quite apart from the negative effect this has on the body’s ability to renew itself overnight, it also results in less calories being burned which, of course, can lead to weight being put on
- Activity – any body movement, no matter how slight, directly increases metabolic rate and thus the amount of calories burnt. The greater that activity, the greater the rise in the metabolic rate. Note that this doesn’t mean we have to be running marathons and working out in the gym every day. Just very basic activity, such as standing up regularly, walking, and doing things around the house makes a major difference in the long term. For example, just sitting rather than lying down can increase metabolic rate by 5 percent. If you fidget while you sit, your metabolic rate can increase by up to 50 percent
- Aerobics – taking the above a step further leads us to aerobic exercise. This is a type of cardiovascular conditioning that is an extremely effective way of raising metabolic rate. Activities such as cycling, swimming, running, and even just a brisk daily walk are all ideal ways of raising metabolic rate significantly. A good target to aim for is three hours of aerobic activity every week
- High-intensity workouts – one of the most effective types of exercise is high intensity interval training. This is a form of exercising that involves vigorous bursts of activity followed by periods of lesser activity. It gives our metabolism a significant boost – one that is still present for a considerable time after the exercise has ended
- Weight exercises – there are any number of weight exercises that can be employed as a means of raising metabolic rate. Weight bearing exercises like push-ups and pull-ups are ideal, as is weight lifting with barbells and dumbbells. They both have the added bonus of increasing muscle mass which, in turn, leads to more calories being burned. Studies have shown that just 10 minutes a day doing weight exercises can raise a person’s resting metabolic rate by up to 10 percent. This results in approximately 150 extra calories being burned every day
- Avoid crash dieting – many people attempt to lose weight as quickly as they can reasoning that the quicker they do it, they sooner they can get back to eating normally. However, this rarely works and the reason is that limiting calorie intake too much results in a significant drop in metabolic rate. As explained above, this is known as metabolic adaptation, or starvation mode, and is the way our bodies prevent starvation. A daily calorie intake of less than 1000 is known to cause a serious reduction in metabolic rate. Furthermore, this low rate can persist for a considerable period after the diet has been stopped. Not only is it not good for general health, it also makes regaining any weight lost as a result of the diet much more likely
- Hydrate yourself – studies have shown conclusively that the simple act of drinking water gives a temporary boost to our metabolic rate. The medical term for it is ‘water-induced thermogenesis’. The effect is more pronounced when drinking cold water because in order to bring it up to body temperature, calories have to be burned. It is thought that around 15 ounces of cold water can raise metabolic rate by about 20 percent for a period of about an hour. So, if done on a daily basis, drinking cold water can result in a significant loss of weight in the long-term
- Eat plenty of protein – protein is a macronutrient essential to the building of muscle mass. And, as we have already seen, the more muscle mass a person has, the higher their metabolic rate. It’s also a fact that while the consumption of all types of food raises metabolic rate, protein raises it far more – typically three times as much. Another effect of high protein consumption is that loss of muscle is minimized, as is the reduced metabolic rate commonly experienced when dieting
The Bottom Line
All human beings are born with a base metabolic rate that is determined by genetic factors. This puts it beyond our control. However, as we have shown in this article, there are a number of ways in which we can boost our metabolic rate. Just one reason for doing so, of course, is to help our bodies shed those unwanted stores of fat.