Originally published on Blackdoctor.org

The human body is funny…one minute, you’re eating cookies all the time and thinking it’s great if you actually managed to get in four hours of sleep – and still can fit all your clothes. The next minute, umm…not so much.

What Does My Metabolism Have To Do With It?

The metabolism sounds like a mysterious and complicated thing, but it’s actually just the amount of energy (translation: calories) that your body needs on a daily basis.

“About 70 percent of those calories are used for basic functions, such as breathing and blood circulation,” says Rochelle Goldsmith, Ph.D., director of the Exercise Physiology Lab at Columbia University Medical Center. “Another 20 percent is fuel for physical activity, including working out, fidgeting, walking, and even holding our bodies upright while standing. The remaining 10 percent helps us digest what we eat.”

The trouble begins when you consume more calories than your body needs to do these things: this is when those extra pounds start showing up.

Why Does My Metabolism Slow Down?

1. Genetics.

You can partly thank your parents for the speed of your metabolism. Genes contribute to the levels of appetite-control hormones we have floating around in our bodies, Goldsmith explains.

“Some people are genetically programmed to be active; they’re naturally restless and use more energy,” she says. Those are the lucky high-metabolism types.

2. Gender.

We know, we know, it’s not fair, but women and men do tend to have different metabolism speeds.

“The average man’s metabolism is about 10 to 15 percent higher than a woman’s,” Goldsmith notes. That’s mainly because men have more muscle mass than women do, which means they burn more calories since muscle does the work to help you move, while fat just sits there. Not only that but women’s bodies are designed to hold on to body fat in case of pregnancy.

What You Can Do To Keep Speed Up Your Metabolism

Despite genetics and gender, there are a few things you need to do more in order to boost your metabolism:

1. Eat More Often.

We know you’re super busy, but make sure you grab lunch. “Simply chewing, digesting and absorbing food kicks your metabolism into gear,” says Jim White, RD, a national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

“The more frequently you eat, the more often it revs up, while skipping meals slows down your metabolism, says White. “Your body switches into starvation mode and your system slows down to conserve energy, so have three healthy meals of 300 to 400 calories and two snacks of 200 to 300 calories every day.”

2. Do More Cardio.

Aerobic intervals will help you maximize your burn and double the calories you burn. Intervals also keep your metabolic rate higher than a steady-pace routine for as long as an hour after you stop exercising, according to Michele Olson, Ph.D., a FITNESS advisory board member and professor of exercise science at Auburn University at Montgomery in Alabama. So start easy, go hard for a few minutes, then alternate between the two for your entire workout.

3. Sleep More.

Deprive yourself of sleep and your body starts to respond as if it were under siege. “When you get two hours less shut-eye than you normally do, your system becomes stressed and produces about 50 percent more cortisol,” Talbott says. “That, in turn, triggers your appetite.”

At the same time, lack of zzzs throws the body’s hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin out of whack, making you more likely to overeat. Skimp on pillow time for too long and you could be facing a severe weight problem, says Michael Breus, Ph.D., author of “Good Night: The Sleep Doctor’s 4-Week Program to Better Sleep and Better Health”. In a 16-year study of sleep-deprived women published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers found that those who slept seven to eight hours a night had the lowest risk for major weight gain. In comparison, women who got six hours a night were 12 percent more likely to pile on a significant number of pounds, and those who logged five hours or less were 32 percent more likely to gain weight.

4. It’s Not About Weight Loss, It’s About Muscle.

A head-to-toe strength routine will turbocharge your calorie-blasting quotient. Add five pounds of muscle to your body and you can zap as many as 600 calories an hour during your workout, Olson says. Be sure to choose a weight-lifting routine that targets your core, legs, arms, chest, and shoulders; challenging numerous muscles will help your body function like a calorie-burning machine, according to Goldsmith.

5. Be More Active.

Working out and being more active is the number-one way to keep your furnace cranking. The more lean muscle you have, the more calories you burn all day. That’s because muscle uses energy – even when you’re resting. Sitting too much (at your computer or in front of the TV), slows your metabolism, even if you’re exercising regularly.

An easy fix is to stretch, stand at your desk for a few minutes, stroll, and even fidget throughout the day. That’s what scientists call NEAT, or non-exercise activity thermogenesis, and it can boost your burn and help you drop weight.

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