Rev it Up!

Remember how your mother told you to stop fidgeting and not to eat between meals? If you want to rev up your metabolism, and lose weight in the process, then those are two things you should do!

A Faster Metabolism Boosts Weight Loss & Better Health

By Rebecca Rochat

The key to revving up your body’s metabolism may be as simple as just moving around more and eating smaller meals and healthy snacks to help the body burn energy.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have found that boosting your “NEAT” is more powerful than formal exercise in determining who is lean and who is obese. Just what is NEAT? It’s your “non-exercise activity thermogenesis,” or in more non-scientific jargon, how many calories your body burns when you are not engaging in formal exercise. Simple everyday activities such as wiggling, walking, tapping your toes, and going up and down stairs, can result in burning about 350 more calories a day.

People with a low NEAT have a biological need to sit more, but it does not reflect a lack of motivation, says Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic, who led the study about NEAT. “It most likely reflects a brain chemical difference because our study shows that even when obese people lose weight, they remain seated the same number of minutes per day; they don’t stand or walk more,” says Dr. Levine. “And conversely, when lean people artificially gain weight, they don’t sit more. So the NEAT appears to be fixed.”

To overcome a low NEAT, it is necessary to focus on energy, as well as food. This may be why diets work in the short term, but not long term; they focus on reducing calories and not boosting metabolism.

What, then, is so important about your body’s metabolism and how does it help to rid your body of unwanted pounds? Metabolism is simply the amount of calories your body needs to function. Think of your body’s metabolism as a finely tuned machine – like an internal combustion engine – except your body’s metabolism involves a mind-boggling number of biochemical processes. Very simply, metabolism is the process by which our bodies convert food (fuel) into energy (glucose). Our heart, lungs, digestive organs, muscles, and brain all use glucose to function. The more work they have to do, the higher our metabolism. The metabolic rate changes constantly depending on how fast your heart is beating, whether your muscles are engaged, whether you’ve just eaten a large meal, or whether you’re fidgeting at the computer.

There are two types of metabolism. Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the number of calories your body needs to just stay alive, the energy you burn when you lie still and breathe slowly. BMR accounts for 50 to 75 percent of your overall metabolism. The remaining 25 to 50 percent comes from exercise and NEAT.

How fast your body burns calories, whether resting or engaging in activity, depends on several factors. The first is that our BMR is mostly inherited. Second, men burn more calories than women while resting. Third, most people’s metabolic rate slows after age 40.

We can’t control age, gender, or genetics, so how much control do we have when it comes to revving up our body’s metabolism? Remember, 25 to 50 percent is in your hands. You can change it; it takes work, but you can change it. Here’s how:

Build Muscle

Our BMR is higher when we have more muscle, which is why men burn more calories while resting – they typically have more muscle than women. Muscle burns more calories than fat; each pound of muscle uses about six more calories a day, while each pound of fat burns only about two calories a day. The best way to build muscle is to engage in resistance or weight training, which activates muscles. Resistance or weight training is a form of anaerobic exercise, which forces the body to make energy without the use of oxygen by performing isolated, limited movements on specific muscles.

Aerobicize!

Along with resistance training or anaerobic exercise, you need to engage in some type of aerobic activity. Aerobic exercise does not in itself build muscle, but does increase metabolism because the body uses oxygen to replenish energy, causing your heart and lungs to work overtime. Stationary bikes, stair climbers, and treadmills are excellent aerobic burners.

Drink More Water and Cold Beverages

Even when mildly dehydrated, the body’s metabolism slows down. To stay hydrated, drink a glass of water or other unsweetened beverage before a meal or snack. Snack on fresh fruits or vegetables, which contain more fluid. Cold beverages also prompt the body to burn more calories.

Eat More Often and in Smaller Amounts

Eating large meals, with many hours in between meals, slows metabolism. You can keep your metabolism up by eating a small meal or snack every three to four hours. You are also more likely to eat less at meals if you snack more regularly. Make sure snacks are healthy, such as fruit and nuts, not chips and candy.

Eat More Spicy Foods and Protein

Spicy foods, such as red and green chilies, contain chemical compounds that rev up body metabolism. Our bodies burn up to twice as many calories digesting protein as fat or carbohydrates. Choose lean, protein-rich foods, such as lean beef, pork, white-meat chicken, fish, tofu, nuts, beans, eggs, and low-fat dairy products.

Avoid Crash Diets and Diet Pills that Promise to Raise Your Metabolism

Crash diets only serve to lose weight at the expense of good nutrition. A high percentage of weight loss from crash diets is the result of muscle loss, which is what you do not want to lose, as lower muscle mass results in lower metabolism. Diet pills can raise body metabolism, but at the expense of higher heart rates and higher blood pressure. If you want to raise your heart rate, stick to aerobic exercise.

Drink Black Coffee and Green Tea

New research suggests that coffee is a short-term metabolic booster, as it stimulates the central nervous system. Lest you think that all those lattes are going to help you burn calories, think again. Cream, sugar, and flavored syrups add more calories than you burn, so stick to black coffee. Up to four cups of green tea may push the body to burn an extra 50 calories a day.

Walk Every Day

Research has shown that walking as little as half an hour a day can keep weight from adding up, especially after ago 40, when body metabolism slows down. “Walking is of particular relevance because it is generally an affordable and accessible form of physical activity for most people,” says Penny Gordon-Larsen, Ph.D., of the Schools of Public Health and Medicine at UNC Chapel Hill. The anti-weight gain effect of walking is greatest among heavy women.

Traditional thinking regarding weight loss has been to eat less and exercise more. However, new research is producing evidence that metabolism is a key to successful weight loss. Boosting body metabolism may be the third side of the weight-loss triangle that includes diet and exercise. This is especially important after age 40, when body metabolism slows and eating less and exercising more may not eliminate mid-life weight gain.

As part of a weight loss program, rev up your body’s metabolism by modifying your eating habits. Don’t forget to fidget more!

Rebecca Rochat is a resident of Chattanooga. She attended the University of Tennessee where she earned a BS in Child Development and MS degree in Textiles and Merchandising and Design. In addition to freelance writing, Rebecca serves as an adjunct instructor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.