Myth: Metabolism is set and does not change.


Fact: Our metabolic rate can be changed.



You have probably heard people blame their weight on a slow metabolism.  I know I have heard them and they treat it like it is a crutch.  To them, it is an unchanging disability that will forever keep their weight high.  Is metabolism the reason they gain weight or have trouble losing it?  

What is metabolism?  Metabolism, quite simply, is the process by which your body converts what you eat and drink into energy.  Metabolism is a complex biochemical process in which calories in food and beverages are combined with oxygen to release the energy your body needs to function.  Your metabolic rate is a combination of your basal metabolic rate (required to live) and your exertion metabolic rate.  Genetics one part if this process and it is a part you cannot change.  Metabolic rate depends on age, genetics, biologic gender (sex), and body composition.    

Why do people gain weight?  People gain weight because of a caloric imbalance.  Too many calories in and

Lifting Weights

Lifting Weights

too few burned leads to a surplus that must be stored somewhere.  Unlike, money which you store in a bank, we store most excess calories as fat.  This rainy day fund is there in case of a drought, but for most of us, that drought is never coming.  As I stated above, metabolism is linked to age, genetics, biologic gender (sex), and body composition and you can only control your body composition.  

Is it possible to increase your metabolism to burn more calories?   Metabolism is linked to body weight, but in particular, it is tied to lean body mass.  Fatty weight burns very limited calories.  But contrary to common belief, a slow metabolism is rarely the cause of excess weight gain. Although your metabolism influences your body’s basic energy needs, how much you eat and drink along with how much physical activity you get are the things that ultimately determine your weight.

Is a slow metabolism why we gain weight?  Yes and no.  Blaming a slow metabolism for weight gain is

Running Stairs

Running Stairs

an oversimplification.  For many of us, we would gain weight on our current diet even with the fastest metabolism.  We just eat way too much.  That being said, it may be helpful to speed up our metabolism to help make it easier to lose weight.  

Why does our metabolism slow down?  I mentioned the factors above, but there are some key changes that occur that will slow our metabolism.  Body composition is one key factor.  The more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism.  Sex is definitely a factor.  Men naturally have higher metabolisms and part of this is muscle composition and the rest is gender specific.  T0aking testosterone will not completely change this.  Age is a factor because as we age, we gain more fat and lose muscle mass.  

So can I change my metabolic rate?  Yes.  You can do this by two methods.  You don’t have much control over the speed of your basal metabolism unless you gain more muscle.  You can also control how many calories you burn through your level of physical activity.  Basically, the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn at rest and the more active you are, the more calories you burn through exertion. Both are good means to burn more calories.  

The bottom line:  You can increase your metabolism by both increasing your muscle mass and exercise level.  I recommend a combination of the two.  You can accomplish this with a mixture of regular aerobic exercise and strength or resistance training.    

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About the Author

I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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