Maximising your metabolism
Your metabolism is important in keeping you healthy but what exactly is a metabolism? Your metabolism is – in essence – a way of describing the chemical processes that continuously occur within your body to keep your organs functioning optimally and to keep you alive. 1
It is responsible for helping you breathe, for repairing cells and for digesting food. It’s this final function that is typically referred to when speaking of metabolism, with people who struggle to keep weight off, even when they seem to be eating right and getting enough physical exercise, sometimes suffering from a ‘slow metabolism.’
What influences and controls your metabolism?
We are all different. We come in different shapes, sizes and genders and we all have a different set of genes. These are all factors in the speed of our metabolisms. Our body composition in part determines the speed of our metabolism – as muscle cells require more energy than fat cells, so generally speaking, increasing your muscle and decreasing fat will speed up your metabolism. Men typically have a more muscular body composition than women, which is why they generally have a quicker metabolism.2 This doesn’t mean you can’t do anything to increase your metabolism though and in fact, focusing on the three key areas of fitness, nutrition and lifestyle, can make a difference to pretty much everyone’s metabolic rate.
Fitness and metabolism
Heart-rate cardio training, such as jogging, aerobics or swimming, is one of the best ways to boost your metabolism with the health benefits of this type of physical exercise being an increased aerobic capacity, maximised calorie burn and improvements in the way your body burns fat as a fuel source. For maximum results though, remember to switch things up and try to incorporate weightlifting into your movement workout too.
If you’re not a fan of gyms and the idea of lifting weights terrifies you, don’t worry. Other types of resistance bodyweight exercises will also help boost your metabolism. You could try squats, lunges, press ups and crunches, for example. Weightlifting makes you stronger and increases your muscles, and we’ve already seen that muscle cells require more energy than fat cells, and therefore burn more calories. This doesn’t mean you should focus exclusively on weightlifting though, as cardio still burns significantly more calories than weight training when your body is not at rest.
Both cardio and weightlifting produce what is known as a metabolic ‘afterburn’ effect called excess postexercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). In simple terms, this effect means that your body will continue burning calories at a higher rate than normal for up to two hours after you finish your movement workout, so you will still be reaping the health benefits of physical exercise long after you finish!3
Nutrition and metabolism
What you eat does not just affect how you feel but can play a direct role in the effectiveness of your metabolism. When your metabolism is working optimally, your cells will be efficiently producing energy and removing toxins. Try to focus on clean, wholesome foods. These foods will be free from pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, hormones, highly processed sugars and trans fats, all of which can stress your body and release the stress hormone cortisol. A higher level of cortisone can result in reduced thyroid activity which, in turn, can slow your metabolism. Try to base your diet around vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds and include dairy and lean protein if they suit your dietary preferences. These foods are far less likely to stress your body and affect your level of cortisone and, therefore, your metabolism.
Finally, don’t underestimate the power of water. Dehydration can negatively affect your metabolism because water is required for all anabolic repairs such as recovering from exercise or healing from an injury. The NHS recommends we consume 6-8 glasses of water or other liquids each day, or more if you are doing frequent exercise or sweating more than usual.4
Lifestyle and metabolism
Coupled with the health benefits of physical exercise and maintaining a good diet, your lifestyle also has an impact on how effective your metabolism is. Getting a good amount of sleep is one of the most important things we can do for our bodies as sleep is the prime time for the growth and repair of our cells. Studies have shown that when sleep was restricted, people experienced impaired carbohydrate metabolism which could lead to weight gain.5
Stress is also a factor in how well your metabolism works. Your brain is wired to recognise any kind of threat and respond with a fight-or-flight stress response which releases adrenaline and cortisol, which we have already learnt can reduce the effectiveness of your metabolism. Furthermore, stress also often leads to other metabolism-damaging behaviours such as overeating, skipping exercise, and missing quality sleep.
While some factors are beyond our control, such as ageing, we do still have a strong influence when it comes to ensuring our metabolisms are working as well as possible. We can’t stop time, but we can eat better, move more and do what we can to lead a more healthy, less stressful lifestyle – all of which will help maximise our metabolisms.