A lot of things get better with age: a fine wine, balsamic vinegar, parmesan cheese, and… your metabolism? According to Dan Reardon, MD, certified personal trainer, and CEO of DNA-analyzing company FitnessGenes, with the right lifestyle interventions, a fast metabolism doesn’t have to be a casualty of aging.
Dr. Reardon recently discussed common metabolism myths with wellness site Well + Good, and one of them caught our eye: Although you may blame your aging body for not being able to eat three slices of pizza and soda like you used to when you were younger, Dr. Reardon claims that your metabolism doesn’t automatically slow down as you age.
“Age will never be a factor on your metabolism if you keep acting the way you did when you were 21,” he says.
“How can that be possible,” you ask? Look at what The American Council on Exercise has to say on the subject: the nonprofit group explains that basal metabolic rate (the minimum amount of energy your body needs to exist at rest) is thought to decrease by one to two percent per decade. The reasoning for the decline? Experts attribute it to decreased metabolically-active muscle mass and increased metabolically-inactive fat mass. But here’s the thing: this imbalance in the ratio of muscle to fat mass will only happen if you don’t act like you did as a kid.
Remember that when you were younger (when you think your metabolism was more efficient) you were likely adhering to strict sports practice schedules, playing outside with friends, or walking across campus countless times throughout the day to get to class. As you age, people are more inclined to be glued to their desks all day or only getting in workouts on a weekend. According to Dr. Reardon, simply by being active like you were when you were younger is enough to keep your metabolism from slowing.
Although studies published in the journal Biochimica et Biophysica Acta have found at least one biological component of a slowing metabolism is directly connected with age — your mitochondria (the powerhouses of your cells) don’t use the energy you get from food as efficiently as when you were younger — Dr. Reardon recommends adhering to the following four preventative activities to keep your metabolism from decelerating.
Fit Anti-Inflammatory Foods Into Your Diet
Anti-inflammatory foods are on the frontline of defense against free-radical-induced oxidative damage. According to recent review in the journal Frontiers in Immunology, chronic metabolic diseases—such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases—all share at least one common feature: they develop, largely in part, to inflammation. As a result, ensuring your diet is high in these inflammation-fighting foods can help to not only protect you from succumbing to diseases, but will also protect your metabolism from stalling.
Maintain an Exercise Routine
Think of it like adult recess! One of the best ways to keep your metabolism churning as you age is by gaining and preserving lean muscle mass. Here, cardio isn’t the only key; while cardio will help maintain heart health, weight and resistance training are better suited for increasing and maintaining muscle mass: the body tissue that actually burns calories. As an added benefit, "strength and resistance training have also been shown to leave the biggest boost on metabolism post-workout," says Rachael DeVaux, RD.
Cassie Bjork, RD, LD, explains how stress slashes your metabolism: "Cortisol is known as your stress hormone since it's triggered in response to stress. [It’s why you get a] surge of energy when you are being chased by a tiger.” She goes on to explain that in order for your body to get this surge in energy, cortisol signals your body to get energy (in the form of glucose) from stored fat. It's able to do this by stopping protein uptake by the muscles and using those proteins to help in the fat breakdown instead. The effect cortisol has on your metabolism is primarily because too much cortisol in your system will keep your body from funnelling protein to your muscles, and it can decrease calorie-burning muscle mass. To fight stress, just look to the tactics in our guide How to Relax So Healthy Eating Works.
Get Enough Sleep
One of the most relaxing ways to keep your metabolism in check is by getting some high-quality shut-eye. "Research has shown that sleep-deprived people have more difficulty regulating their blood sugar and therefore are often hungrier than individuals who are getting their eight hours per night," says Dr. Lauren Beardsley, Associate Physician with Integrative Health who specializes in thyroid, adrenal, and hormone balance. When your body lacks the proper means to regulate your blood sugar, it ends up produces excess stress hormones and inflammatory free radicals. As a result, not only will your metabolism take a beating, but you’ll also be prone to weight gain. To sleep better, look no further than trying out The Sleep Diet: 7 Habits of Highly-Rested People.