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Dr. Bridget Gibson: Eight ways to get your metabolism moving

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Dr. Bridget Gibson

Metabolism is the chemical reactions in the body's cells that change food into energy. Our bodies need this energy to do everything from moving to thinking to growing.

If a person’s metabolism is the rate at which their body burns calories for energy, are there things they can do to increase that rate? And, does metabolism hold the key to weight management and why some people struggle, and others never seem to gain weight?

There are conflicting theories on how metabolism works and if it can be boosted to help people lose weight faster. Let’s get the facts on what’s possible when it comes to weight loss.

What is metabolism?

Metabolism is how your body uses food as energy and then burns that energy to keep your body going.

What are some ways that I can help boost my metabolism?

1. Eat your meals on a schedule: Eating your meals at the same times throughout the day will help your body maintain a metabolic balance. In other words, if you eat too much and then go for long periods without eating, your body may overcompensate and burn calories more slowly or store more fat cells.

2. Don’t skimp on calories: Skipping meals or cutting your calorie count too much can make your metabolism slow down so your body can conserve energy. Make healthy choices that keep you within the recommended calorie count but still fill you up.

3. Drink green tea - While studies are inconclusive, some research indicates that green tea extract may play a role in promoting fat metabolism. Green tea also can be a good alternative to sugary juices and sodas and can help ensure that you get enough water during the day.

4. Do resistance training and high-intensity workouts: Lifting weights and doing exercises that use resistance weights or the weight of the body helps build muscle. Muscle mass has a higher metabolic rate than fat, which means that muscle mass requires more energy to preserve and may increase your metabolism. Add to that a routine that involves alternating periods of higher-intensity and lower-intensity exercise to burn more energy.

5. Drink plenty of water - Staying hydrated is essential for the body to function at its best. Water is necessary for optimal metabolism, and it may help you lose weight.

6. Get plenty of sleep - When you get too little sleep, your body releases a hormone, ghrelin, which can make you feel hungry. It also releases less leptin, a hormone that helps you feel full. Getting enough sleep can help ensure that these hormones remain balanced and can prevent you from overeating.

7. Reduce stress: Stress affects hormone levels, and it can cause the body to produce too much cortisol, the hormone that regulates your appetite and can lead to unhealthy eating patterns, which in turn disrupt your metabolism. Stress is also closely related to the quality of your sleep.

8. Get enough B vitamins: B vitamins, in foods such as bananas, baked potatoes, eggs, orange juice, peanut butter, peas, spinach and whole-grain foods, are essential for a fully functioning metabolism. B vitamins help your body metabolize carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, and use the stored energy in food.

Do I burn energy if I’m not being active?

Yes, even when you’re not moving, your body uses energy to perform functions such as breathing and to keep your heart beating. This is known as “resting (or basal) metabolic rate.”

What determines a person’s resting metabolic rate?

—Genetics: The hereditary characteristics passed down from your parents and grandparents play a part, but fortunately, there are other factors affecting metabolism which we can control, such as diet and exercise.

—Age: For most people, at around age 30 metabolism naturally begins to slow down.

—Gender: Women, on average, tend to have slower metabolisms than men. This is because men typically have more muscle, so they burn more calories.

—Weight: People who weigh less require less energy (fewer calories) to fuel their bodies. When you lose weight, your metabolism also slows, so it can be harder to lose weight over time and to keep it off.

Three tips for healthy weight loss

The bottom line when it comes to healthy weight loss is to be aware of your calorie intake (and the reduced calorie requirement as you age) and stay focused on the factors you can control.

1. Start with a goal of losing 5 to 10 percent of your weight through increased physical activity and healthier eating. The benefits can be dramatic.

2. For example, a person weighing 250 pounds who loses 5 to 10 percent would be shedding 13 to 25 pounds, which could lower his or her risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some forms of cancer. Other benefits you can actually feel sooner may include having more energy, fewer aches and pains and feeling less winded or out of breath — making it that much easier to keep moving.

3. Celebrate your victories at each milestone. When you’ve reached 5 percent or start to feel better or notice an increase in energy, give yourself a gold star, do your happy dance, or reward yourself with a favorite activity. You’ve earned it and the benefits are only beginning.

Slow and steady wins the race! Extreme diets and fitness routines are not sustainable long-term. The saying “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” is true. Healthy weight loss and management is about what you can do each day to move more and eat more fruits and vegetables, lean protein and whole grains, rather than carbs, fried foods and sugar.

Dr. Bridget Gibson is a family medicine physician for Brookwood Baptist Health.