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Perhaps you have been feeling more tired than usual lately. Maybe your digestion seems a bit “sluggish”. Your skin feels dry and you’ve been craving sugar. These are all signs of metabolic weakness or a slowing down of your metabolism. Let’s dive into how this can happen and for each cause I give simple to implement tips on how to increase your metabolism.
Metabolism As We Age
As we go through menopause our bodies change. Estrogen decreases, muscle mass decreases, and less muscle mass means a slower metablism so more fat gain. And guess where that fat goes when we’re over 50. Yep, around our middle.
What we need to do to speed up our metabolism over 50 is much the same at any age with a few key differences which I will note as we go.
Firstly What The Heck Even Is Metabolism?
Metabolism is the word to describe all the complex biochemical reactions in your body. It’s how you take in nutrients and oxygen and use them to fuel everything you do. Your metabolism is largely determined by your genetics and the percentage of muscle mass in your body.
This article will give you an overview on what metabolism is and how it affects your overall health and well-being.
Your body has an incredible ability to grow, heal, and keep you alive. And without this amazing biochemistry, you would not be able to be you.
Metabolism is constantly happening and it affects everything from your mood to weight gain.
It includes how the cells in your body allow:
- Activities you can control such as walking, running or exercise
- Activities you can’t control: your heartbeat, wound healing, processing of nutrients & toxins, etc
- Storage of excess energy for later
Putting all these processes together so that they work just right is incredible but if the conditions aren’t in balance it can mean that you have a slow metabolism.
People often say that they have a slow metabolism, or that they are “metabolically challenged.” This means they are not burning calories as quickly as others might.
Which brings us to “metabolic rate”.
This is how fast your metabolism works and is measured in calories. THAT WORD! That word that we love to hate.The calories you eat can go to one of three places:
- Work – exercise and other activity
- Heat – from all those biochemical reactions
- Storage – extra leftover “unburned” calories stored as fat.
The more calories you burn as work or creating heat the fewer “leftover” calories there are to store as fat for later and the easier it is to lose weight and keep it off over 50. Seems simple right? Hmm, maybe not.
What things can cause a slow metabolism?
Metabolism includes all of the reactions in your body that use nutrients and oxygen to create energy. There are lots of factors that affect how quickly or slowly it works. Your “metabolic rate” is measured in calories.
We now know that metabolic rate is much more complicated than the old adage “calories in, calories out”! In fact, it’s so complicated I can only list a few of the common factors that can slow it down.
Examples of common reasons why metabolic rates can slow down:
- low thyroid hormone
- a history of on and off dieting
- size and body composition
- activity level
- LACK OF SLEEP
- Stress levels
- And of course, aging.
Note: as we age we tend to do less strenuous activity. Add the fact that as we age we lose 3-8% muscle mass each decade and it may seem like we’re on a fast train to wearing stretchy pants and comfy shoes forever land.
Having low thyroid
Your thyroid is the master controller of your metabolism. When it produces fewer hormones your metabolism slows down. Some of your thyroid hormones tell the cells in your body when to use more energy.
Ideally, they would work to keep your metabolism just right. However, issues like autoimmune diseases and mineral deficiencies can throw them off balance. Two of the most common minerals are iodine and selenium.
To keep these minerals at optimum levels include some of the following foods into your diet each day to help balance your thyroid hormones and increase your metabolism.
I eat 3 brazil nuts every morning when I get back from my walk. Boom! Daily selenium is taken care of.
If you prefer, try my Selenium-Rich Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding Recipe which is perfect as a dessert or a breakfast.
Psst! – there’s also a recipe for Dark Chocolate Brazil Nut and Coconut Bars on the same post.
Eat foods containing:
Iodine – Kelp, wakame, kombu, organic strawberries, organic yoghurt, cranberries.
And Selenium – Brazil nuts, sardines, turkey, spinach, chicken.
Talk with your doctor about having your thyroid hormones tested.
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A long term history of dieting
When you lose weight your metabolic rate slows down. This is due to the fact that the body senses that food may be scarce. It adapts by trying to continue with all the necessary life functions and do it all with less food.
While dieting can lead to a reduction in fat it carries, unfortunately, research shows it can also lead to a reduction in the amount of muscle you have. As you know more muscle means faster resting metabolic rate.
- Make sure you’re eating enough healthy food to fuel your body
Body weight and body composition
In general, overweight people have faster metabolic rates. This is because it takes more energy to fuel a large body than a smaller one.
However, gaining weight is never the best strategy to increase your metabolism.
Loss of Muscle Mass With Age
As we age we lose muscle mass and this in turn will slow down our metabolism causing us to gain fat.
Muscles that actively move and do work need energy. Even muscles at rest burn more calories than fat. This means the amount of energy your body uses depends partly, on the amount of lean muscle mass you have.
Your activity levels
Increase your heart rate with aerobic exercise
Aerobic exercise temporarily increases your metabolic rate. Your muscles are burning fuel to move and do “work”. This doesn’t mean you need to go crazy and start running or doing fast gym workouts.
Aerobic activity can be as simple as a brisk walk up the nearest hill.
Even little things can add up. Walking a bit farther than you usually do, using a standing desk instead of sitting all day, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator can all contribute to more activity in your day.
Incorporate more physical activity into your day. I often run on the spot while I wait for the jug to boil or my toast to cook. Any amount of activity is better than none.
Build lean muscle mass with strength training
Muscles that actively move and do work need more energy than fat does. So the more muscle mass you have the more energy your body will burn and the higher your metabolic rate will be. Even when you’re not working out. Imagine burning calories in your sleep!
Resistance training will help keep you looking fit and toned.
This is why weight training is often recommended as a part of a weight loss program. Because you want muscles to be burning those calories for you.
When you lose weight your metabolic rate often slows down. Offset that loss with more muscle mass and reducing simple carbohydrates in your diet such sugar and grains.
Build up your muscles to improve increase your metabolism
Lack of sleep
There is plenty of research about the influence that sleep has on your metabolism. The consensus is to get 7-9 hours of sleep every night.
I’ve written a lot about the benefits of a good night’s sleep. Probably because it can elude me at times too. This is one area to work hard on maintaining but in doing so try not to get stressed or you’ll find yourself in a vicious circle. See my latest post on sleep (it does refer to midlife but really the concepts are the same at any age) – How To Get A Better Night’s Sleep In Midlife
Tip 5: Create a calm nighttime routine that allows you to get into bed in a relaxed state in time for 7 hours of sleep. Ideas to do this are:
- keep lights low
- turn off electronics
- have a warm nighttime drink
- chat quietly with your family
- do some journaling
- do a short restorative yoga routine that promotes sleep. Here is a gorgeous one with relaxing music by my favourite yoga teacher Adriene – Yoga For Bedtime – 20 Minute Practice
Chronic Stress – metabolism’s worst enemy!
Stress really is the Big Kahuna for messing up our body’s processes and slowing your metabolism.
It is important to keep stress to a minimum. If you find your stress levels trending up and staying there, try some regular meditation. Even 10 minutes will help. There really are some gorgeous meditations online. Check out this post for some of my faves – Free Guided Meditations For Better Health In Menopause
Although a little cortisol, the stress hormone, can increase your metabolism, continual stress can cause weight gain, depression and fatigue.
Tip 6: Check out my Selenium-Rich Chocolate Chia Pudding recipe. This recipe contains Brazils: a rich source of selenium which can support thyroid function and help with sleep problems.
Other ways to reduce stress are to:
- exercise regularly
- avoid caffeine, alcohol and smoking
Eat foods that help increase your metabolism and improve your digestiion
Your body burns calories to absorb, digest, and metabolize your food. This is called the “thermic effect of food” (TEF).
Thermic effect of food
You can use this to your advantage when you understand how your body metabolizes foods differently.
Fats, for example, increase your TEF by 0-3%; carbs increase it by 5-10%, and protein increases it by 15-30%. By trading some of your fat or carbs for lean protein you can slightly increase your metabolic rate.
Studies have also shown the TEF of highly processed foods as being substantially less that of whole foods, which makes complete sense.
A doughnut which is high sugar, high fat (not the good kind) and therefore high carbohydrate will turn into energy easily and increase your TEF very little. Wholefoods, on the other hand, take a bit more digesting and release energy into your system slowly increasing your TEF more.
Add to that the fact that course food may even pass through your body without even being digested so the calories will be lost out the other end and you are on to a win.
Another bonus of protein is that your muscles need it to grow. By working them out and feeding them what they need they will help you to lose weight and keep it off.
For a super simple protein recipe try my Lemon Herb Roasted Chicken Recipe. It ticks all the boxes.
Foods To Increase Your Metabolism
Aside from the foods mentioned above these foods are all great choices:
I’m so pleased that this makes the list. Limit it to one or two cups a day and try to make them in the morning so there is no effect on your ability to sleep.
Choose the greener version so your getting all those healthy antioxidants as well. Amoung many other benefits this tea will help improve sleep, lower blood presser and aid weight loss.
Good sources of protein
Grass fed lean red meat, poultry, nuts, seeds, greek yoghurt all count as good sources and will help keep your metabolism ticking along while keeping you feeling less hungry and so helping you to eat fewer calories.
Olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, seeds and their oils (if cold pressed) as well as avocado are all good choices. These will help keep you feeling fuller longer so you don’t feel the need to snack on empty calories .
Plenty of rainbow coloured vegetables
Especially the leafy variety and cruciferous veg. We’re talking kale, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. Vegetables, especially those with high fibre, take a bit more to digest so our bodies burn more calories thereby increasing our metabolism.
Cayenne peppers help increase the amount of heat your body produces as I mentioned in the Thermic ‘Effect of Food. Including this ingredient in you recipes will increase the number of calories you burn.
Tip 7: Incorporate the foods into your diet that will help to boost your metabolism with out adding more body fat. A healthy wholefoods diet full of plant food with a moderate amount of good protein and healthy fats is perfect for establishing the best environment for a healthy metabolism.
As older adults our metabolism can be slow
There are many reasons why our metabolism may become slow. However, the good news is it is fairly simple to increase it with the tips I’ve given you here.
As with anything in health the best remedy is a holistic approach.
The best way to approach remedying a health issue or increasing your metabolism as we’ve talked about here, is to tackle it in small increments.
If it all seems a little overwhelming that’s okay. Take it one small change at a time. Swap something in your diet this week. Maybe add in a short meditation next week. Ten weeks equals ten changes for the better and that’s ten healthy habits you didn’t have when you started. Imperfect action is better than no action at all.
Do you know if your metabolism is slow? Let me know in the comments.
see what others are asking
- How can I speed up my metabolism?
- Eat a diet rich in healthy wholefoods with a good amount of protein and healthy fats.
- Lift weights to increase muscle mass
- Get plenty of good sleep
- Move more
2. What foods increase metabolism?
Iodine, zinc and selenium are minerals that will help keep your thyroid working optimally. So add meat, seafood, nuts, seeds and legumes to your diet.
3. What foods slow down your metabolism?
Foods containing processed wheat such as white bread and pasta have no nutritional value and will be readily turned to energy in our bodies without using any extra calories to digest it. This will contribute to slowing down your metabolism.
Likewise high sugar foods that when eaten are immeditatel turned into energy or stored as fat do not help to increase metabolism.