Anyone over age 40 knows that the body experiences multiple changes as you age. While you may become wiser and more content upon getting older, physical changes aren’t quite as welcome. Although genetics and lifestyle play a role what happens as you advance in years, Web MD lists common changes of aging as:
- Skin wrinkles and dries; fingernail growth slows
- Hair thins and goes gray
- Height decreases, by as much as two inches by age 80
- Hearing and vision decline
- Sleep quality and quantity are reduced
- Bones weaken and lose density
- Heart and lungs are less efficient
- Metabolism slows, muscle mass decreases and body fat increases
While a healthy diet and active lifestyle can prolong or minimize the effects of some changes, we typically cannot totally eliminate them. However, our efforts can make a significant difference regarding a declining metabolism and reduced muscle mass. The good news is that it is possible to keep your metabolism active while you age.
Metabolism is the rate at which your body uses calories and turns food into energy to sustain life and support activity, and is expressed as the number of calories you expend each day. People with a fast metabolism burn more calories at rest and with activity; and individuals with a slower metabolism expend fewer calories daily. Overeating and inactivity, combined with a slow metabolism, result in weight gain.
Metabolism is impacted by genetics, gender (men have faster metabolism), body size and specific medications. Mathematical formulas exist to estimate metabolism, or it can be measured in a doctor’s office with specific equipment. Basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the quantity of calories used while the body is at rest to support life, including breathing, circulation, body temperature regulation and more. It accounts for 60-75% of daily metabolism, and it slows 1-2% per decade after age 20. However, it can be a challenge to accurately measure BMR.
Resting metabolic rate (RMR) is easier to measure, and includes BMR plus the thermogenic effect of food through digestion (you actually burn calories as you digest), along with non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT – which is energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating and exercise) and physical activity and exercise.
As we age, we tend to lose muscle mass, which is tissue that actively burns calories, and thereby is a big contributor to metabolism. At the same time, we gain more fat, which isn’t metabolically active. Therefore, we burn fewer calories at rest, so if we take in the same number of calories, we will gain weight. What can exacerbate this is that many people become more sedentary when they age, further decreasing caloric expenditure.
To keep your metabolism active as you age, implement the following recommendations:
- Do cardiovascular activity regularly – This is exercise in which you get your heart rate up and keep it there for 20-60 minutes, where you are breathing harder. While activities like casual walks, bowling and a leisurely game of golf are good, they are not intense enough to qualify as cardio workouts. Instead, choose fast walking, jogging, bicycling, rowing, the elliptical, the stairclimber, cardio group exercise classes and swimming laps. Vary workouts as you can to stay challenged and motivated, and aim for 3-5 sessions weekly.
- Incorporate interval training – For even better fitness results, interval training adds bursts of intensity to your cardio session. For example, you can walk for two minutes, run for one, then return to walking and repeat the cycle. Or select an interval program on virtually any cardio machine. The idea is to vary periods of high intensity with steady intervals. Research has shown that interval training leads to greater caloric expenditure during the workout, as well as for several hours afterward, which is a valuable bonus. Not only will you get fitter, but you’ll give your metabolism a much-needed boost!
- Perform strength exercises consistently – As we age, most of us don’t need to worry about bulking up, but instead must combat declining muscle mass.
Take on 2-3 strength training sessions weekly, using machines, dumbbells, barbells, resistance bands and body weight to work the major muscle groups, which include the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, inner and outer thighs, pectorals, back, shoulders, biceps and triceps.
Effective exercises include squats, lunges, deadlifts, push-ups, rows, overhead press, biceps curls, triceps extensions, planks and crunches, to name a few. Use machines or free weights at the gym or dumbbells and resistance bands at home. Hire a trainer if you want guidance in getting started, or consult various resources online or in books. The more muscle you maintain, the higher your metabolism.
- Remember to stretch – Don’t skip stretching, as we tend to lose flexibility and range of motion as we age, and stretching routinely can help you feel good so that you can stay consistent with workouts, alleviate tightness and stiffness and help reduce the risk of injury. Hit the main muscle groups and hold stretches for 10-30 seconds each. And try yoga, which is a great way to improve flexibility.
- Incorporate activity each day – Don’t sit so much, and seek for ways to be more active, including walking the dog or taking a few laps around the mall, standing more often, doing calisthenics or stretching while watching TV, gardening and yard work, taking the stairs, biking to do errands and taking on active hobbies, like bowling, golf, tennis and hiking. Every little bit of activity adds up and will help stoke your metabolism.
- Eat regular meals, and choose foods wisely: Skipping meals actually can slow your metabolism, but eating at regular intervals (every 4-5 hours) keeps it humming along. Skipping breakfast is particularly bad, as your body has been in a fasting state since dinner or your last snack the previous night, and needs fuel to rev up. Starting your day with a healthy breakfast sets the stage for good choices at lunch and dinner.
Keep portion sizes controlled, and don’t stuff yourself or binge, as this is a sure way to have extra calories stored as fat. Choose fruits and vegetables, complex carbohydrates, fiber-rich foods, lean proteins, low-fat dairy products over high-fat, high sodium, sugary processed items. Hot peppers have an ingredient, capsaicin, that has been shown to temporarily elevate your metabolism, so if you can tolerate them, go for it!
- Drink up – Dehydration can slow metabolism and cause fatigue. Often, we don’t realize that we are dehydrated. Drink cold water throughout the day, keeping a bottle in your car, at the office and at home. Caffeinated beverages like coffee and tea are stimulants that can boost your metabolism, but balance them with water since they also are diuretics that encourage fluid loss. Some scientific evidence shows that green tea can increase metabolism as well. Staying properly hydrated also can keep hunger in check.
- Get adequate sleep: Research shows that regularly getting less than 7 hours of sleep nightly leads to weight gain and a higher body fat percentage. Keep your appetite hormones functioning properly with sufficient rest. And if you can’t sleep as much during the night as you age, grab a short nap during the day.