There are things that you hear mentioned from time to time. They seem to be common words or phrases, you tie them to a particular subject, and you even think you understand what they mean. Sometimes, however, you don't really know what that word means and how it REALLY relates to the subject you have come to associate it with.
"Metabolism" is one of these words. In the checkout line at the supermarket, magazines have headlines like "This Food Can Boost Your Metabolism". Your doctor says, "Your metabolism has slowed down over the last few years". You even hear there's a new weight loss craze called "Ultrametabolism".
From these, and a few hundred other situations, you have figured out that metabolism has something to do with weight loss, and maybe weight gain, but do you really know what the relationship is, how one affects the other, and what you can do about it? Those are three questions we will try to answer, briefly, but with enough information for you to use what you have learned to improve your weight loss program.
WHAT IS METABOLISM?
Metabolism as word or process can be defined in two simple statements. First, it is the chemical process within your body for the maintenance of life, yielding energy and forming substances necessary to life, such as blood, bone, muscle, fat, and so on. Second, it is the processing of specific substances, such as fat metabolism, iodine metabolism, and many others. While both of these relate to what we are talking about, the first statement is the important one for you at the moment. YOUR METABOLISM is how YOUR BODY goes about extracting energy from food, building and repairing tissue and organs, and how efficiently it does this. That last part about efficiency is a key point in weight loss and weight gain.
HOW IS METABOLISM RELATED TO WEIGHT LOSS...AND WEIGHT GAIN?
At various times in your life, your metabolism worked in different ways. Many of you can remember the days when you could eat anything you wanted and never gain a pound...a large pizza, three sodas with sugar, and some cinnamon sticks, and absolutely no change!
In the younger years of your life, your metabolism is in the high gears, probably the highest gears it will ever be in. For most of you in these years, weight gain and weight loss are not really issues. Some people, however, do have slower metabolic rates, and may have genetic tendencies or clinical conditions which cause them to have more of a weight gain than others of their age group. No matter which group you find yourself in, changing your metabolic rate, revving up your metabolism, will increase the speed and efficiency with which your body turns food into energy and body "parts and pieces".
Unfortunately, as you have long suspected, as you aged, your metabolism slowed down. Part of this is just something the body does with age, part of it, while somewhat related to age, is the effect of changes which take place in your way of life as you age. Fortunately, both are somewhat reversible, essentially through the same process. More on this in the last section. The part where your body just slows down has to do with "resting metabolism", and the other part...well, let's just call that "rusting metabolism".
When you are doing something that doesn't seem to demand energy, your body still needs to do some housekeeping activities. Your diaphragm expands and contracts and your heart pumps blood for example. Tissues are repaired and waste products are carried off. While you're sitting there in a semi-vegetative state watching reruns, your body is hard at work.
As you age, this resting metabolic rate decreases. At least one estimate puts the decrease at approximately 10% between childhood and retirement, and another 10% after that. Odds are that you still like the pizza, and soda, and cinnamon sticks, but your body doesn't change as much into energy as it used to. Your internal maintenance doesn't get done as efficiently as it used to either, so there tends to be some more "stuff" left over after the meal that disappeared into thin air when you were a teenager. This decrease happens to just about everybody, so if you didn't have a weight problem in high school, you may see fat accumulating on your body as you age. If you DID have a weight problem in your younger years, it will probably just get worse.
In addition to the natural changes that come with age, you have made some changes in your lifestyle as you aged as well. In my younger years, I rode a bicycle to and from school, two miles each way, five days a week. For some of that time, I had a paper route and rode my bicycle over a two mile stretch every day, pedaling a bike with a heavy load of papers for about a mile to get to the route, and throwing papers right and left (and, yes, I did get my papers on the porch). For fun on the weekends and during the summer, you guessed it, I rode my bike all over Pensacola, Florida. As an adult, I would walk out to my car, drive to work, walk to my desk, walk back to the car and drive home.
Activity, such as my bicycle riding needs energy, and revs up the metabolic rate, that is, the speed with which the energy is formed...and used up. This burns calories, and those calories that are burned in the process cannot hang around to become fat, which just...well, you know, hangs around.
UNDERSTANDING AND USING YOUR METABOLISM AS PART OF YOUR WEIGHT LOSS PROGRAM
Having learned about resting and rusting metabolism, it might seem that one quick answer is to simply eat less. To tell the truth, for small, short term weight loss, just knocking a few calories out of the diet might be sufficient. However, those lost pounds will eventually find their way home, and possibly bring some friends with them, and dieting has additional pitfalls that can't be covered here. One pitfall you DO need to know about is that if your diet takes your calorie intake below a certain point for a while, your body will adjust its metabolic rate to a new, permanent, lower level, and will not only maintain your weight on fewer calories, but may actually begin increasing your weight again. If you go off that calorie-restricted diet, your body will keep on chugging along on fewer calories and your weight will go back up, possibly even higher than it was before. Since your metabolism is now at a lower rate, it will be even harder to lose weight the next time.
TIP: Although a diet might not be the answer, if you are a typical human of the 21st century, you are probably consuming some things you could do without or in quantities in excess of what you need. Sugar, for example. Or let's look at that ice cream box. The last one I saw said there were 16 servings in there. A few years ago, one of those boxes lasted through four servings for me. Take a look around, there ARE some changes you can make.
Increased activity (okay, I'll say the bad word..."exercise") can take care of the rusting metabolism rate. I walked 45 minutes on my walker yesterday and burned over 250 calories. Although many factors such as nutritional supplements can have small effects on resting metabolism, the two major factors are age and activity. You and I probably agree that we cannot do a d***** thing about age. What we do have control over is activity. Increasing your exercise or activity level has two basic effects in terms of metabolism. Exercise burns calories and raises the resting metabolic rate.
EXERCISE BURNS CALORIES
When you use your remote control to change channels on the TV, you barely change your resting rate. If you stand up and walk across the room to change the channel and walk back to your chair, you have just....oh my God!...exercised. Not only that, you have burned a few more calories simply by getting up off your...Sorry, I meant...out of the chair. Go for a walk, swim, garden, ride a bike, take the dog for a walk. If exercising in public embarrasses you, blame it on the dog! "Yeah, the vet said he needed to get out more. HE'S putting on a few pounds." Go ahead, try it. Nobody will think you're walking yourself...right? Whatever it is, do it every day or at least several times a week, and you will burn off some of those extra calories and pounds of fat.
EXERCISE RAISES YOUR RESTING METABOLIC RATE
There are some exercise activities, usually of an aerobic nature, that, when done over time. tend to shift the body to a higher metabolic rate. If you go out for a long walk today, you will burn some extra calories while walking. Take that long walk every day for several weeks, and your resting metabolic rate will actually go up, and you will burn more calories when you are in front of the TV. Not only that, your metabolic rate will remain increased for a while after you finish your exercise activity, so instead of simply burning excess calories during the exercise, you will continue to burn excess calories over a short period following it.
Other exercise activities, such as resistance activities, build lean muscle mass. Muscle tissue burns more calories than other types of tissue, such as fat tissue, so building lean muscle mass not only burns calories during the exercise, but the lean muscle mass you add to your body will continue to burn calories, helping to increase your resting metabolic rate.
TIP: Daily activity will burn excess calories and increase your metabolism. Changing some of your eating habits, such as cutting out unnecessary fats and carbs (yes, some fats are necessary) and watching portion sizes, will cut down excess calories that your body has to deal with. This double barreled approach will give you the most effective permanent weight loss experience.