Your metabolism is the process by which your body converts what you eat and drink into energy.
The higher your metabolism is, the more calories (energy) you burn each day.
As we age, our metabolic rate begins to slow down, which is part of the reason weight gain occurs as we get older.
But, aging isn’t the only thing that causes metabolism to slow down. A number of other factors also influence metabolic rate including gender, heredity, and amount of lean mass.
Your daily choices (lifestyle habits) also directly influence metabolism and can either help you burn fat or gain it.
Sitting Too Much
These days we have more technological comforts than ever before. But all progress comes with a price.
In exchange for the comforts of the modern era, we are more sedentary than ever.
Instead of walking or biking to work, we drive. Instead of shopping for our own groceries, we have them delivered to our house. Instead of performing manual labour, we work behind desks and computers.
Add it all together and it adds up to very little movement during the day.
And the less movement that occurs, the fewer calories you burn during the day.
Yet, despite our reduced levels of physical activity, we’re still consuming lots and lots of calories.
This combination of a sedentary lifestyle and high-calorie intake leads to a slowing of the metabolism and lots of weight (i.e. fat) gain.
Increased non-exercise activity (fidgeting, parking further away, taking the stairs instead of the elevator) is one of the easiest ways to boost metabolism and increase the number of calories burned during the day.
It’s low impact, won’t impair recovery from intense workouts, and increases blood flow and circulation (which actually accelerates recovery).
One easy way to reduce the amount of sitting you do during the day is to set a reminder on your phone every hour to get up and walk for 5-10 minutes. Another way to increase your movement is to get a standing desk at work or go for a walk when talking on the phone instead of sitting or lying down.
These small decisions may seem inconsequential, but over time, they will amount to big changes in your total energy expenditure during the weeks and months ahead.
Not Exercising Regularly
Building off the last point, not only is being sedentary a surefire way to kill your metabolism but so too is not exercising regularly.
What this means is that if you do not regularly exercise (3-5 times per week), and you live a relatively sedentary lifestyle, you’re not really increasing your energy expenditure during the day above and beyond your BMR.
Coupled with a high-calorie diet, this can lead to unwanted weight gain.
Regular exercise helps stimulate metabolism, support health & longevity, increase the number of calories burned during the day, and if you perform the right kind of exercise (more on that next!), you can actually boost your metabolism!
Not Lifting Weights
So often when people think of “exercise,” they think of performing cardiovascular exercise (cardio) — going for a jog, hopping on the elliptical, or pedalling time away on a bike.
And while these are all fine forms of exercise, they’re not the only type of exercise you should be performing.
Cardio does help stimulate metabolism and increase the number of calories you burn during the day, but that boost in calorie burning stops shortly after you stop exercising. And, cardio also does little to help build muscle and strength.
This is important when you realize that the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism is as muscle is more “expensive” from an energy standpoint than fat. Furthermore, muscle tissue is also the body’s largest repository for glucose.
The reason this is noteworthy is that the more muscle you have, the more effectively and efficiently your body can handle carbohydrates.
To build muscle you should perform resistance training (lifting weights) 2-4 times per week.
Not only does resistance training help you to build muscle and strength, but it also boosts metabolism for up to 38 hours after training.
Moreover, as we age, metabolism naturally slows and muscle breakdown increases. Aging also tends to go hand and hand with more sedentary lifestyles. Add these factors together and you’ve got the perfect recipe for unwanted fat gain.
Not Consuming Enough Protein
Whether you want to lose fat or build muscle, consuming enough protein each day is vital to your success.
You see, protein supplies the building blocks your body needs (amino acids) to repair and build muscle tissue.
Not consuming enough protein can impair your recovery from training and stunt your muscle and strength progress. Basically, not consuming sufficient protein is a surefire way to make your efforts in the gym go to waste.
But, that’s not all.
Protein is also highly satiating (meaning it keeps you full), and it’s also the most energy intensive macronutrient for your body to breakdown and absorb.
In other words, by consuming a high protein diet, you are helping to keep hunger in check, and boosting your metabolism (since your body has to expend more energy to break down protein than either carbs or fats).
Therefore, you want to consume adequate protein each day to keep metabolism high, support muscle growth, and limit cravings.
Not Getting Enough (7-9 hours) Sleep
One pillar in the success (or failure) of anybody transformation that isn’t stressed heavily enough is sleep.
Yes, proper diet and hard training are vital to your success, but so too is the amount and quality of sleep you get each night.
During sleep is when our bodies replenish energy stores, clean up waste products generated during the day, and do the majority of repair and growth.
Restricting sleep effectively “kneecaps’ these processes from happening, which leads to you feeling tired, unmotivated, and under recovered.
But, there’s more.
Sleep deprivation also messes up your hormone levels, which has a direct impact on hunger and satiety signals as well as metabolism.
Research has shown that when individuals don’t get enough sleep, levels of the hunger hormone (ghrelin) increase while levels of the satiety hormone (leptin) decline.
Basically, when you don’t get enough sleep, you feel hungrier during the day, and you’re less likely to feel full following a meal.
Moreover, not getting enough sleep also reduces motivation to exercise and it decreases the amount of movement you do the day after.
Letting Stress Get the Better of You
When we’re stressed, levels of the “stress” hormone (cortisol) increase.
In acute situations (getting chased by a cheetah, attempting a max weight lift, etc.), cortisol is beneficial as it heightens energy, alertness, and motivation.
However, when we are chronically stressed, cortisol levels remain elevated which has numerous negative ramifications.
For starters, chronic stress increases appetite and the desire to eat comfort foods (high-fat, high-carb, high-calorie food). It also decreases our desire and motivation to exercise.
To top it off, it also reduces sleep quality
All of these things kill metabolism.
While you can’t completely eliminate stress from your life, you can take steps to limit certain stressors and improve the way you manage stress.
Doing so will help you feel more balanced and at ease during your daily life, and keep your metabolism going strong!