No doubt you’ve already read or heard that once you reach the age of 40, the process of weight gain is irreversible. The set of mechanisms in our bodies which comprise our metabolism really do start to grind down a bit slower with each passing year after the age of 30. But, there’s no need to get pessimistic.
Actually, the rate with which the metabolism slows down is pretty minimal and the weight gain which usually happens in midlife is not due to having a slower metabolism at all.
The truth is quite simple, and is often not so comfortable for some people to hear: as we get older, we become less active physically.
This may seem depressing to some people at first, but when you look at it from another perspective it’s really good news. There are lots of things we can do in order to counteract or prevent this slow and what seems to be an inevitable increase of weight.
But before we go into the details on how to do this, let’s discuss the basics of what metabolism really is and what it isn’t.
How does the body burn energy?
There is a parameter known as the resting metabolic rate which represents a measure of the amount of energy we expend/burn when we’re resting. This resting metabolic rate is determined by multiple factors like height, s*x, as well as the genes you inherited from your parents and regardless of what you do, it cannot be changed much.
If we put that aside, our bodies tend to enter three specific calorie burning phases, which depends on what we are doing. These three metabolism types are what the majority of people are referring to when they say they are doing certain things like exercising or eating spicy goods, which can boost the metabolism.
Most things people say will boost the metabolism, actually won’t
When we eat, we expend a small quantity of calories, approximately 10% of the total calories burned during the day. This is known as the thermic effect of food, and represents the first of the three phases we mentioned previously.
There is a way to increase this expenditure, although not by much, by doing certain things such as drinking stimulating liquids like coffee and consuming a lot of protein.
Studies have shown that consuming certain foods and compounds like caffeine, green tea or hot peppers will make a difference, but not a very drastic one. Some of them might give you a metabolism boost, which will not be sufficient to make a dramatic decrease in your weight.
The answer is to get physically active
The single most effective activity we can engage in that will help us burn more calories is precisely that- activity. Whether we choose taking the stairs instead of the elevator, going for a short walk during our coffee break or doing an intense exercise in the gym, we expend energy.
Scientists name this 2nd phase: physical activity expenditure. After we finish our training session, we continue burning more calories than while resting and that’s when we enter the 3rd phase known as the excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.
In terms of preventing weight gain, the last two phases which are related to exercise are the most important. The most optimal way to burn more calories during the day is to increase activity levels of any kind, whether, walking, running or working out in the gym.
A lot of people think that weight lifting or strength training fall into this category, however the evidence says otherwise. Weight lifting has only a minimal effect on your metabolism. You might ask why. Because during weight lifting the muscle do not burn a great number of calories, as shown by multiple studies.
When it comes to expending a lot of calories, the brain is actually a lot more efficient than the biceps. Studies have shown that brain functioning makes up approximately 20% of the resting metabolic rate.
Next is the heart, which needs to function all the time and makes up 15 to 20%. The liver comes in 3rd place, which also needs to function while at rest, taking up the same calorie expenditure percentage as the heart.
Next, the kidneys, lungs and other tissues. What remains is the muscle tissue, which contributes only 20 to 25 % of the total resting metabolism.
So, even though strength training is one of the healthiest habits you can acquire and will most certainly have a positive effect on many things like balance and agility, the fact is that it doesn’t have the ability to change the metabolism in a great way.
The premise that a pound of muscle has the potential to burn hundreds of calories daily is a big myth.
Always be mindful of how much you’re eating
Research has also shown that in addition to becoming less physically active as we become older, we also tend to become less aware of how much food our body really needs. The natural mechanism for controlling our appetite seems to get inhibited.
A good way of becoming more mindful of how much food is enough is to start eating smaller meals and only eat more when still hungry, instead of eating a large meal, which will most certainly lead to overeating.
By becoming more active and eating smaller meals comprised of healthy foods, we can eliminate weight gain as we age.