What it really means to have a fast or slow metabolism
We all know someone who seems to be able to eat what they like and stay slim. Then there are those who say that their conscientious diet and regular workouts just don’t make a difference on the scales. In both scenarios, it’s quite common to hear people ascribe their weight to their metabolism.
So, what IS your metabolism, and can you really speed it up? Read on to find out, as we sort some popular myths from the facts.
Myth: my metabolism is part of my digestion
Let’s get this straight. Digestion and metabolism aren’t the same thing. Digestion is the process of breaking down the food you eat. Metabolism is the word used for all the chemical reactions that occur inside your body to keep you alive and your body working normally.
All these chemical reactions need energy. The amount of energy needed to keep your body going while you’re at rest is called your basal metabolism or your basal metabolic rate (BMR). When people talk about a slow or fast metabolism, what they really mean is a low or high BMR.
Handpicked article: Calculate your BMR
Myth: most of my energy goes on exercise
Of course, your body uses energy to exercise, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not as much as you might think. It’s your basal metabolism that uses the biggest share of your energy, around 60 per cent. When you consider that it supports continuous processes such as breathing, that’s not too surprising. That said, the more exercise you do, the more energy that will burn. Try working extra incidental exercise, such as walking meetings, into your day.
Myth: you control your metabolism
Yes, certain foods and forms of exercise CAN increase your metabolic rate and speed up metabolism. For example, it seems that a workout boosts BMR for up to 48 hours. However, other factors that are out of your hands have a significant effect. These include your age, sex and genetics.
Interestingly, something else that influences your metabolic rate is the amount of muscle you have. Those with more muscle usually have a higher metabolic rate. This goes some way to explaining the impact of age and sex. As we age, we usually lose muscle. Meanwhile, men tend to have more muscle than women. Strength training is an effective way of building muscle for a harder-working metabolism. This doesn’t have to mean lifting weights. Try resistance exercises like squats, lunges and sit-ups.
The role of genetics isn’t really understood yet. We do know, though, that some medical conditions can slow your metabolism. One of these is an underactive thyroid.
Myth: slimmer people have faster metabolisms
This one will perhaps come as the biggest surprise. Actually, people who weigh more tend to have a higher metabolic rate. The reason for this is that it requires more energy to fuel a bigger body.
Also, calorie-restricted diets have been seen to reduce metabolic rate, at least in the short-term. This can mean that, if you go back to your former eating habits once you reach your goal weight on a calorie-restricted diet, it can be easier to put weight back on.
Myth: your metabolism nose-dives when you sleep
Your metabolic rate doesn’t fall as dramatically as you might suppose when you’re asleep. It’s thought to be only around 15 per cent lower than when you’re awake. This is because your basal metabolism uses the greatest proportion of your energy, and the body never shuts down. So, your metabolism is hard at work, even when you’ve switched off!
Handpicked article: Ways to speed up your metabolism
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please consult a doctor or healthcare professional before trying any remedies.