How Does Age Affect Metabolism?

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Are you blaming recent weight gain on age-related changes in your metabolism? You might be surprised to learn exactly how age affects metabolism and what you can expect as you get older. Don’t miss this quick guide with helpful tips on naturally (and safely) boosting your metabolism too!

What is Metabolism?

At its core, metabolism is the extremely complex biological process that occurs in your body by which the things you eat and drink are broken down and converted into energy. Calories from food and drink are combined with oxygen and transported to cells to give them the fuel they need to complete important functions and allow you to do pretty much anything.

Your basal metabolic rate is the minimum number of calories your body requires to carry out all the important functions that keep you alive and well including breathing, altering hormone levels, repairing tissue, circulating blood, and growing cells. Your sex, age, size, body composition, physical activity levels, and digestion are all factors that influence how many calories you effectively burn every day.

The speed of your overall metabolism is determined by:

  • The rate at which your body burns calories while you are asleep or at rest

  • Thermogenesis, or thermic effect of food, which is the number of calories you burn simply in digesting and storing food

  • NEAT (Non-exercise activity thermogenesis), or the number of calories you burn outside of exercise doing everyday things like walking from room to room

  • Physical exercise

You can’t really control how many calories your body burns for your its most basic functions, however, you can control any extra calories you burn through physical activity. Routine exercise like hiking, playing tennis, golfing, and dancing all help you burn the same number or more calories than you consume each day to prevent unwanted weight gain.

Why Your Metabolism Slows as You Age

Your metabolism doesn’t simply slow down as you age, but rather, certain factors change that, in turn, alter it. For example, losing some muscle mass is a normal part of aging. As muscle burns more calories than fat, however, older adults who lose muscle mass could experience a slow down in the rate at which their body burns calories.

Research also shows that adults tend to stay less and less active as they age, avoiding the exercise and physical fitness their bodies require to expend energy and burn calories. Some metabolic processes like that by which the powerhouse structures in cells, mitochondria, use oxygen to create energy have also been shown to become less efficient with age.

In addition to weight gain, symptoms of poor metabolism may include:

  • Chronic fatigue

  • Difficulty staying warm

  • Cracked, dry skin

  • Sugar cravings

  • Headaches

  • Hair loss

  • Weakness and loss of flexibility

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Difficulty losing weight

Since weight gain can result from a variety of factors like sleep, stress, genetics and not just your metabolism, it’s premature to attribute any weight gain in your senior years to a slowed metabolism alone. You can take action to ensure your metabolism is operating at its most efficient though.

How Seniors Can Boost Metabolism

Here are some key steps you can take to improve your metabolism as you age, or at least prevent it from hitting from the brakes.

Strength-training – preventing a detrimental loss in muscle mass comes down to strength-training. This doesn’t have to mean hitting the weight room; rather, you can build muscle through resistance training (like with resistance bands), body weight exercise likes planks and push-ups, and lifting dumbbells.

Sleeping better – not getting enough sleep has been shown to disrupt normal energy expenditure. 6 to 8 hours of quality sleep each night could be your ticket to improving your metabolism. Try avoiding blue light from digital devices at night and keep your sleeping area dark and cool to facilitate the best environment for getting some shut-eye.

Eating more protein — protein has a higher thermic effect of food meaning it requires the body to burn more calories during digestion than carbs and fat do. Protein is also essential to preserving muscle mass. Incorporate more plant-based proteins into your diet like legumes, nuts, and seeds to avoid overdoing it on heart disease culprits like red meat.

Research has also shown that things like drinking green tea every day and completing high-intensity interval training can also play an important role in boosting metabolism.

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