Reignite Your Metabolism

Understanding Your Metabolism

If you're on a weight-loss plan, you may worry about your metabolism, but do you really know how it works? Find out why you may have a slow metabolism and how to make it faster.

By Jennifer Acosta Scott

Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH

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It’s not unusual to hear people on a diet complain about a “slow” metabolism or wonder how to get a faster metabolism to speed weight loss, but for all the talk about it, you may be surprised to learn that metabolism is not actually a medical term.

“It’s just a general term that gets thrown around a lot. A lot of people look at it in terms of their weight — whether they can lose or gain weight,” says Priscilla Hollander, MD, an endocrinologist at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, adding that she’s not sure there’s even a true definition of metabolism in the way that dieters use the word.

In the scientific community, metabolism refers to the processes in the body that use energy, like breathing, digesting food, and muscle function. Everything that takes place in the body needs energy to work. “All of our cells are like little furnaces, and they all need nutrients to burn,” Dr. Hollander says.

Your Metabolism Can Vary

The rate at which people use this energy — also known as their basal metabolic rate or BMR — can vary. People with a slow metabolism who find it hard to lose weight actually have more efficient approaches to calorie-burning because they consume energy at a slower pace and convert more of it into fat for later use.

“Ten thousand years ago, the more efficient you were, the more likely you were to survive,” Hollander says. “People didn’t know when their next meal was coming along, so the emphasis was on storage.” Those with a so-called faster metabolism, meanwhile, may find it easy to stay slim because their bodies use energy at a higher, more inefficient rate.

It’s not fully understood why some people use up energy faster than others, though genes can play a role in determining the rate of your metabolism. “We do feel there’s some genetic component,” Hollander says. “There have been studies where they looked at families and saw that some family members can inherit a certain body type. Their metabolism is set at a more efficient or less efficient level.”

External factors can also influence your BMR. Many people today have jobs that require them to sit at a desk all day, and many leisure activities, such as Internet surfing, require little physical movement as well. This lack of exercise can cause a person’s BMR to be lower. “People are watching more TV and being less active in their playtime,” Hollander says. “That may play a role in metabolism.”

Your Metabolism and Medical Conditions

Medical conditions can affect the rate of your metabolism as well. Hyperthyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid produces too much thyroid hormone, can cause a person’s metabolism to become too fast, sometimes resulting in unwanted weight loss. Likewise, hypothyroidism, which is characterized by insufficient production of thyroid hormone, can cause a slow metabolism and sometimes weight gain.

Metabolism can be changed to a certain degree, Hollander says. If your metabolism is overactive due to hyperthyroidism, it can be slowed down with prescription drugs, like methimazole or radioactive iodine. If it’s underactive because of hypothyroidism, treatment with replacement thyroid hormone can bring it back to normal levels. But correction of hypothyroidism does not usually result in significant weight loss.

Physical activity can increase the rate at which you use energy. Aerobic exercise like walking not only burns extra calories during the activity, but can also increase the rate at which you use energy when you’re resting. Building muscle mass through strength training can also increase basal metabolic rate. “If you’re doing a lot of muscle work, it does use more nutrients,” Hollander says.

There’s also some evidence that getting enough sleep can have a positive effect on your metabolism. Sleep deprivation can cause an increase in appetite and resistance to insulin, a hormone that helps the body metabolize glucose for energy. These conditions put you at higher risk for obesity and diabetes. To reduce this risk, aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night. You’ll feel more rested and have more energy for any increase in physical activity that you’re planning.

Video: Boosting Metabolism : The Best Foods to Eat to Burn Body Fat

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Date: 09.12.2018, 14:36 / Views: 55233