We love to toss our failed fitness attempts on the shoulders of our metabolism, but truth be told—do you really know what it is? And is it actually responsible for your weight loss woes? At its core, our metabolism is responsible for taking the food we eat and converting it to usable energy. Without it, our bodies would not be able to function.
While we all fear the slowing of our metabolism and the increasingly hard task of maintaining and losing weight, here's what you may not know about the essential bodily function. Get a better handle on it all—and why you should care!—so that you don't wind up doing any of these 31 Things You Did Today to Slow Your Metabolism.
Metabolism is Not Just Luck of the Draw
Some people look at their metabolism as if it's a committee that sits in our bodies and decides our jeans size. In reality, it's far more involved. "Metabolism is a complex chemical process that converts the food we consume into energy that the body uses to function. Metabolism is a balance of breaking down (catabolism) and building up (anabolism)," says Anastassia Amaro, MD, Medical Director of Penn Metabolic Medicine, and Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine in the division of Endocrinology Diabetes and Metabolism in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. But as scientific as it all is, you can influence your metabolism. Find out the 55 Best-Ever Ways to Boost Your Metabolism.
Our Metabolism Helps Us Do Everything
You're probably most interested in metabolism because it can influence your waistline. But it deserves a lot more R-E-S-P-E-C-T than that! Not only does our metabolism give us the energy we need to be physically active, but it also is a key player in other more sedentary processes. "Even at rest, our bodies continue to require energy to maintain breathing, blood flow, and cell repair. The number of calories used to maintain these basic functions is called basal metabolic rate," says Amaro. Doctors and dietitians warn not to drop below a certain number of calories when dieting because our bodies require a minimum number of calories just to function normally—a.k.a. our basal metabolic rate.
Muscle Mass Boosts Metabolism
While body weight may be a result of metabolism efficiency (or deficiency), body weight—specifically fat versus muscle content—does have an influence over metabolism functioning. "People with a higher muscle-to-fat ratio tend to have a higher metabolism than people of the same weight with lower muscle-to-fat ratio. Exercise that helps build muscle can increase metabolism," says Amaro. By incorporating more strength training into your fitness regimen, you can rev up your metabolism and boost your overall calorie burn. Not a fan of the gym? Then check out these 31 Sneaky Ways to Work Out—Without Hitting the Gym.
Sleep May Boost Metabolism
You snooze, you win. Getting more Z's can increase overall metabolism functioning, and as a result, may support greater weight loss or maintenance efforts. "There is increasing scientific evidence that inadequate sleep is associated with abnormalities in metabolism—more specifically, in carbohydrate metabolism. Sleep deprived people tend to have higher blood sugar in the morning. Extending sleep by approximately 45 minutes a night can improve some metabolic parameters," says Amaro.
Stress Wreaks Havoc on Metabolism
High levels of stress can not only throw you off balance mentally, but it also causes a strain on your metabolism and hormones. "Stress is in part mediated by the hormones that counteract the action of insulin, the main hormone of carbohydrate metabolism. That means stress can lead to temporary impairment of carbohydrate metabolism," says Amaro.
Caffeine May Boost Metabolism
It seems as though there's a new verdict out on caffeine every other week, but the fact is that a cup of joe (sans the unhealthy fix-ins) may have a positive effect on your body's ability to burn calories. "Mild to moderate consumption of caffeine can help increase metabolism," says Amaro. Take note of the mild to moderate key phrase, though, and don't miss these 35 Things You Don't Know About Caffeine.
Dieting Can Permanently Slow Metabolism
According to a study published in the journal Obesity, dieting not only slows down metabolism, but the researchers discovered that our metabolism doesn't always fully recover or bounce back to a normal state. As a result, it makes it harder to maintain weight loss—especially in extreme cases like the contestants on The Biggest Loser who prompted the study.
With Age We Require Less Calories to Maintain Weight
As we get older, our metabolism does slow. What this means is that our bodies don't need as many calories as it used to. "With age, we tend to require fewer calories to maintain weight. Several processes play a role in this; we lose some muscle mass and replace it with fat tissue, we tend to be less physically active, and growth hormone (testosterone in men and estrogen in women) production goes down," says Amaro. Check out these 25 Foods People Over 45 Should Eat to age as gracefully and healthy as possible.
Exercise Can Fight Metabolism Slowing
"Research supports physical activity as a way to maintain healthy metabolism with aging," says Amaro. By making exercise a regular part of your life—specifically strength training to build and maintain muscle mass—you can fight back against metabolism slowing, making it easier to maintain a healthy weight.
Sunlight Exposure May Alter Metabolism
According to researchers from Northwestern University, exposure to sunlight before noon may positively influence metabolism and aid weight loss while exposure later in the day may have a negative effect. While research is still ongoing, the study suggests that this is tied to our internal body clocks and that exposure to too much light at the wrong time of day may throw the clocks off balance, which could, in turn, alter metabolism and potentially lead to weight gain. Speaking of the sun, discover the 7 Foods to Eat to Help Prevent Sunburn!