What is Metabolism?
Metabolism is your body’s method of converting calories, from the food you eat, into energy needed to power all the physiological processes that keep you alive and kicking 24/7. The minimum amount of energy your body needs to keep you going is called Base Metabolic Rate (BMR).
Calories in food – protein, fat and carbohydrates – fuel your BMR. Each of us requires a unique daily number of calories to maintain BMR so we can breathe, grow, think, sleep, digest food, and filter waste. Age and lifestyle are significant factors in calculating BMR. If you sit more than you move each day, your BMR is lower and your daily calorie needs are lower, too.
It’s in My Genes!
Your genes (and hormones) play a role in metabolism because they can influence the potential you have to grow muscles (how dense and how big) and how your body stores fat. However, genetic and hormonal mechanisms in metabolism are extremely complex. There are no definitive theories. Yet, many people have lost and maintained a tremendous amount of weight despite their family history. Many health experts agree, “Your genes are not your fate.”
Chances are your ‘slow metabolism’ has more to do with your diet and the type of exercise you are (or are not) doing on a regular basis.
If your exercise routine builds lean muscle, that helps increase metabolism. Muscle tissue requires more energy to maintain than fat tissue. This is why people with leaner bodies (a higher muscle to fat ratio) have a higher BMR. (Those are the folks who eat carrot cake that doesn’t ‘go right to their hips.’)
Build a 24-Hour Fat Burning Body
The first key to revving-up metabolism is eating a whole foods diet: lean protein, high quality grains in moderation, plant-based fats and oils (i.e. olive or coconut), fresh fruits and veggies, and drinking lots of water. Dr. David Ludwig, the director of the obesity program at Boston Children’s Hospital, argues that all calories are not created equal. In recent studies, Dr. Ludwig has shown that high-carbohydrate diets slow metabolic rates compared to diets higher in fat and protein, so that people expend less energy even when consuming the same number of calories. The bottom line is that it is important to focus not just on quantity of calories but the type of calorie. 100 calories of broccoli and 100 calories of soda have very different effects on the body and metabolic rates. A low-carbohydrate diet will induce more weight loss than simply counting calories.
To really increase metabolism, and turn up the heat on your waistline, you’ll want to try the muscle-building, never boring workouts listed below. These workouts help your body generate a ‘post-exercise burn’ that can rev up your metabolism for 2 – 24 hours after you finish a workout. Factors that determine the afterburn effect include your current fitness level and body composition, the intensity and duration of exercise, and type of exercise performed.
Just remember: Our bodies are designed to adapt; beginners to elite athletes both have to change-up their routine every few weeks to continue to see progress.
Circuit Training to Increase Metabolism. This exercises all the major muscle groups in one workout (30-45 minutes) and may include body-weight movements, machines, dumbbells, and exercise bands. Exercises are performed for 8-12 reps, 1-3 sets of each.
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). These workouts alternate bouts of maximal physical effort with a rest (or lower intensity) period for set times (e.g., 40 seconds max, 15 seconds lower effort). HIIT principles can be integrated into a variety of exercise routines including walk/run, swim, weight training, and group classes. Research shows an increase in calorie burn for up to 24-hours post exercise.
Metabolic Conditioning routines are highly intense and designed to engage different physiological “energy” pathways in the body. These workouts typically use a “suspension exercise system” (e.g., TRX) but can be integrated into other fitness activities. It’s best to have a metabolic exercise routine designed and supervised by an experienced exercise specialist who can appropriately alter the intensity, reps, sets and rest intervals.
Effects of Stress on Metabolism
Chronic stress often leads to weight gain. According to Dr. Caroline J. Cederquist, stress is contributing to the trend of national weight gain.
“Studies have shown that hormones play a role in elevating the desire to eat foods containing carbohydrates during prolonged periods of stress. When our brains receive stimuli that indicate a period of stress on the body, they respond by releasing cortisol, a hormone whose primary function is to raise blood sugar and promote the metabolism of carbohydrates, protein and fat. In response to higher blood sugar levels, the pancreas releases extra insulin, which has the effect of lowering blood sugar rather quickly. This, in turn, causes a craving for foods rich in carbohydrates – e.g., comfort foods.”
If stress is high in your life, part of your weight-loss routine might include yoga.
Food for Thought. . .
“Body love is more than acceptance of self or the acceptance of the body. Body love is about self-worth in general. It’s more than our physical appearance.” – Mary Lambert
When Life Heats Up, Chill out with Yoga
If daily hassles, constantly chiming cell phones, and past-due deadlines have you at the boiling point, simmer down to the yoga mat and find a little peace of mind.
A mind-body practice, Yoga combines physical poses (postures) called asanas, simple breathing exercises and guided meditation. Anyone can practice yoga and experience the health-enhancing benefits:
- Reduce blood pressure
- Lower resting heart rate (so the heart works more efficiently)
- Promote mental alertness
- Better manage symptoms of anxiety and depression
- Improve muscle tension associated with stress and chronic health conditions
There are many ‘styles’ of Yoga for you to try. Styles vary in how many and the intensity of how the poses are performed; some styles are more intense (Bikram, Power, Iyengar) and others more restorative (Kundalini, Ashtanga). All yoga styles originate from Hatha Yoga, which was developed in India about 5,000 years ago. Hatha Yoga is a good choice for managing stress and chronic health concerns. It also is ideal for beginners.
A yoga class begins with breathing exercises and gentle movements to clear the mind and limber the body for the “active postures.” Next, you’ll move through a series of poses (standing, seated, and lying down). During class an instructor may use the ancient Sanskrit (Hindu) names and the American names for poses, e.g., Mountain Pose (Tadasana) or Triangle Pose (Trikanasana). A certified instructor helps participants modify poses to suit their unique needs.
The focus of practicing yoga is not on how long or how perfectly you perform the pose. Nor is it competitive-so no making comparisons or judgments of self and others. Yoga is all about letting go of your mental chatter by focusing on the breath and allowing it to guide your body into a calm, centered state.
Yoga class concludes with a guided meditation or relaxation exercise. This may help you learn to be more mindful and aware of yourself in any moment of your day, not just the time you spend on the yoga mat.