We all know at least one person who can eat anything and not gain a pound. We chalk it up to a “fast metabolism.” But what exactly is metabolism, and can a slow metabolism be speeded up? Metabolism is the work your body does to turn the food you eat into energy. Even when you’re sitting perfectly still, you’re burning calories. Women burn about 1,200 to 1,700 calories a day and men burn about 1,400 to 2,100 calories a day at rest because simply breathing burns calories, as does the normal everyday functioning of your brain, heart, liver and kidneys.
The rate at which your body burns calories when you’re resting is called the “basal” or “resting” metabolic rate (BMR). People with a low BMR will tend to gain more body fat over time than someone with an average BMR. Factors that influence metabolism include heredity, age, body type and gender. If you’re overweight, it’s likely because you’re consuming more calories than your body burns.
To help boost your metabolism and drop those extra pounds:
- Be active every day. When you move—like walking, running or dancing—your body burns calories well above the basal rate. But any aerobic activity that gets your heart rate up is good. And working out early in the day helps raise metabolism all day. Thirty minutes is adequate, 60 minutes is better if you’re trying to lose weight. Make it weight bearing, such as walking or running, and you’ll strengthen your bones as well.
- Eat more frequently. Studies show that people who eat small, frequent meals tend to have a fast metabolism. Skipping meals slows down metabolism because without food your body will conserve energy and burn fewer calories.
- Build muscle. People who have more muscle than fat generally have higher BMRs. Muscle is active tissue that consumes calories. The more lean muscle you have, the more calories you burn. Lifting weights two or three times a week can boost metabolism by as much as 15 percent.
- Don’t be a chronic (and crash) dieter. Most diets don’t work, and people who cut their food intake too drastically can damage their body and actually cause their metabolism to slow down. Plus, you’ll be too tired to exercise.
- Lose weight slowly. Set a realistic goal for weight loss. Experts say that one or two pounds a week is about right.
- Eat your fruits and veggies. Not only will they provide healthy fuel for your body and help with weight control, they may reduce the risk of some cancers and chronic diseases.
- Read the labels. Make your calories count. Nutrition facts can help you make smart choices about calories, fats, sugar and salt.