Aside from what you may have heard your metabolism is not static but dynamic. Meaning that the speed of your metabolism can be changed. Many people feel that they are stuck with a certain type of metabolism; either slow or fast. This is simply not the case as our metabolism can be sped up or slowed down depending on certain factors that we will discuss below.
Before we examine the factors that can boost the speed of our metabolism let us explore what exactly we mean by the word ‘metabolism’.
What Exactly is Metabolism?
Metabolism refers to all the chemical processes going on continuously inside our bodies that maintain normal body functioning, including building and repairing our body tissues. The amount of energy, measured in Calories (Cals) or kilojoules (kJ) that our body burns at any given time is affected by our metabolism. If we eat and drink more Cals/kJ than we can burn via our metabolism or through physical activity we store the extra mainly as body fat. The rate at which our body burns energy is called our metabolic rate.
What Can Affect Your Metabolism
Your metabolism can be influenced by multiple factors working in combination, including:
- Amount of lean muscle tissue – muscle burns energy rapidly
- Amount of body fat – fat cells are ‘sluggish’ and burn far less energy than most other tissues and organs of the body
- Crash dieting, starving or fasting – eating too little food encourages the body to slow the metabolism to conserve energy. Our basal metabolic rate can drop by up to 15 per cent due to dieting or fasting.
- Age – metabolism slows with age as discussed further below.
- Hormonal imbalance – Hormonal imbalances can influence how quickly or slowly the body burns energy. These hormonal imbalances can include thyroid conditions, progesterone/oestrogen imbalance, as well as insulin resistance. Thyroid conditions are discussed further below.
- Infection or illness – in this case our body has to work harder to build new tissues and to create an immune response
- Amount of physical activity – hard-working muscles need plenty of energy to burn. Regular exercise increases muscle mass and teaches the body to burn energy at a faster rate, even when at rest
- Drugs – some drugs, like caffeine or nicotine, can increase our metabolism (although smoking is not recommended!)
- Dietary deficiencies – for example, a diet low in iodine reduces thyroid function and slows the metabolism.
Now that we have looked at what can affect our metabolism there are some things we can implement into our daily lifestyles to speed up our metabolism.
Ways to Naturally Speed Up Your Metabolism
Listed below are some ways to naturally boost our metabolism.
Avoid Meal Skipping – skipping meals convinces our bodies that we are in starvation mode. The result is a slowing of our metabolic rate. Try to eat a small meal or snack every 3–4 hours. This means you will be eating around 5–6 meals per day.
Avoid Dieting – similarly, dieting to the extreme whereby we reduce our Calorie intake to very low levels, usually lower than 1200 Calories for women and 1400 Calories for men, will cause our metabolism to slow down. Dieting to this extreme can also cause our lean muscle mass to waste away, which further reduces our metabolism.
Be Active – exercise stimulates thyroid hormone secretion and raises our metabolic rate. It is recommended that you do at least 30 minutes per day of some form of exercise to boost your metabolic rate for one to two hours after you have finished exercising.
Increase Lean Muscle – for every one kilogram of muscle that you have, you burn an extra 100 Calories at rest. This means that if you have plenty of lean muscle you will be able to burn a lot more of the food you eat without storing it as body fat. Resistance training in the form of either body weight exercises or fixed/dumbbell style exercises build muscle. Try incorporating some of these types of exercises into your weekly routine to maintain your muscle mass.
Sleep and Rest – it is important that we get enough sleep and rest to maintain our metabolism. Those of us who are highly stressed, not sleeping well, or not taking time to wind down will find that our metabolisms will eventually slow as a result.
Eat a Nutrient-Rich Diet – a diet rich in vitamin C, selenium, B vitamins, zinc, vitamin E, iodine and L-tyrosine can help to boost your metabolism. Make sure you are eating plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, fish and lean meat in order to get enough of these essential nutrients from your diet.
Incorporating these simple activities into our daily schedules helps to boost our metabolic rate. However there are two situations that will affect our metabolisms independently of our actions and that is due to normal ageing or to thyroid disease.
Dr Cris Beer
Holistic Medical Doctor