How to deal with slowing metabolism as you get older
Decreasing BMR (basal metabolic rate, or the rate at which we burn calories at rest) is one of the most significant contributors to a slowing metabolism as people age. BMR is highest for kids and adolescents because their bodies need extra calories and fuel to grow at this time in life. When the 20’s roll around, however, this rate starts to slow and level off, because the body’s growing needs are now minimal.
As people age, the body naturally begins to lose muscle and gain more fat as well. Because muscle burns more calories than fat, the metabolic rate takes another hit here.
Despite these biological changes, there are a number of ways to manage your slowing metabolism. By boosting muscle mass, energy intake and other factors that play into your metabolic rate, you’ll be able to reduce the negative affects and maintain a healthy weight.
Your body naturally loses muscle as you age; about 1 percent per year starting in your 30’s, explains Caroline Apovian, MD of Boston University, School of Medicine1. Weightlifting and strength training counteracts that natural process, allowing you to build and maintain muscle mass. The best part: you don’t have to be lifting heavy weights, or be on a strict, regimented program, to build and maintain muscle.
Instead, plan to lift low to medium weight (think 5 to 15 pounds) or performing bodyweight strength exercises, for 8 to 10 repetitions, 2 to 3 days per week. This rep range builds muscle, as opposed to a lower range with higher weight, which builds strength, and lower weight with higher reps, which builds endurance.
Focus on functional and foundational exercises. These ensure that you to hit all the major muscle groups needed to lift items, lower yourself to the ground, and reach up in your every day life. These exercises include:
- Plank variations
- Bicep curls
- Shoulder presses
- Lateral raises
- Tricep swingbacks
When you deprive yourself of the fuel your body needs to function effectively, whether intentionally or not, your metabolism takes a hit. “When your body decides to slow your metabolism it’s all about one thing: survival,” says Catherine Crow, Nutritional Therapist.
She explains, “Your body is making a wise decision to sacrifice long-term health for short-term survival because it’s being told to do so (usually through food/nutrient scarcity). The slowing of the metabolism allows your body to go LONGER on less food. The body also tends to hold on to fat as a protective mechanism.”
To get your metabolism humming at a rate that’s effective, it’s important that you get enough food to eat every day, even if you don’t think you’re hungry. Note that hunger cues don’t always come from your belly; a sudden change in mood (I was happy a minute ago, nothing has happened and now I’m annoyed) and headaches can both be signs of hunger as well.
Use this calculator, from Authority Nutrition, to find your daily calorie needs based on age, weight, height and activity level. Indulge in nutrient dense meals, with whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, to stay full longer and feed your body properly.
Make Time for Activity Every Day
Eating healthy (and enough) along with strength training is a great way to fight back against a slowing metabolism, but don’t remain sedentary between workouts. Instead, keep your calorie burn high by moving more throughout the day. Activity levels account for nearly 20 percent of the total calories you burn each day, according to Trinh Le, MPH, RD2, so keeping your body in motion is key.
If you work in an office, this could be as simple as walking during your lunch break, or making time for subtle exercises throughout the day:
“Often times while I’m waiting for the photocopier or the microwave I’ll do some small exercises like calf-raises, squats or lunges. If I can squeeze in some here and there during the work day, it just means I have less to cram in later.” Cristina Dulin3, Events Director for Fit2Run.
Another solution, whether you’re at home or working, is to set a timer to go off once an hour as a reminder to get up and walk around. Head to the bathroom or the coffee machine, take a walk around the block, or stroll up and down the stairs a few times.
Head to the Doctor
There are a variety of other causes for a slowing metabolism as you get older. These include thyroid and hormone imbalances, sleep, chronic under eating, and poor gut health. In these cases, simply altering your activity levels or eating more food may not be the best solution for managing your metabolism. A doctor, naturopath or nutritionist can provide necessary insight for getting your metabolism in check.
A slowing metabolism is part of the aging process, but it’s not something you have to simply accept as-is. In most cases, there are ways to boost your metabolism, allowing you to maintain a healthy weight and body for many years to come.
Use these tips to get a metabolic boost, and see a doctor or health professional if you suspect something else going on.
Monitor your Progress
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Guest post contributed by: Jessica Thiefels is a San Diego based writer and personal trainer, she is a NASM Certified Fitness Nutrition specialist and and ACE Certified Personal Trainer. She’s written for Shape, Reader’s Digest, AARP, Snap Fitness and more.
1 Caroline Apovian, MD of Boston University, School of Medicine
2 Trinh Le, MPH, RD
3 Cristina Dulin