Your metabolism is the way in which your body takes food and turns it to energy. The energy is used for cellular functions needed to keep you alive, including moving, breathing, thinking and digestion. As we age, metabolism slows down, and sometimes this leads to weight gain (1) . There are things we can do to keep our metabolisms active and even increase our metabolism. It’s important to start with the basics before getting into the details of specific foods or nutrients to eat. Begin by building daily healthy habits which should become routine and eventually you won’t even think about it. Here are 5 key recommendations to establishing a healthy, metabolism boosting routine:
1. Exercise: It’s important to get regular exercise, not only for the cardiovascular benefits, but it helps with stress relief, sleep and gives a big boost to the metabolism. CDC recommends that adults exercise 150 minutes per week, for example 30 minutes a day for 5 days per week (2). This can also be spread out during the week or broken up in smaller chunks of time during the day. Your metabolic rate increases during intense exercise to burn calories and your body will continue to burn calories for hours after exercise.
2. Drink water: Our bodies are made of greater than 60% water, and water is necessary for many functions. Sometimes the brain mistakes thirst for hunger and this can happen when we’re mildly dehydrated. Dehydration can also lead to poor sleep and fatigue, and increase your level of stress hormone (cortisol). This can result in feeling less motivation to exercise and poor food choices. Some research has shown that hydration is also necessary to burn fat (3). The recommended daily amount of water used to be 8 glasses; however, this can vary with the individual, based on age, gender, and activity. You should drink when you feel thirst and choose water over sugary beverages.
3. Increase fiber: Fiber does not get digested but plays an important role in digestion and weight loss. There are two types of fiber: soluble which dissolves in water, and insoluble which does not. When soluble fiber travels to the large intestine, it feeds the good bacteria in your gut necessary to digest other food and fight inflammation (4). Soluble fiber blocks absorption of excess cholesterol and also decreases absorption of carbohydrates (5). Insoluble fiber serves as a bulking agent, takes more time to eat and can help us feel full longer. The recommended daily amount of fiber is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men (6). Try increasing fiber intake slowly to avoid bloating, and drink plenty of water with it to aid digestion.
4. Avoid processed food: Processed foods often have hidden calories in the form of fat and carbohydrates and cause us to take in more calories before feeling satiated. In one study, people who followed a diet of ultra-processed foods add about 500 calories more a day compared to a whole foods diet (7). Processed foods lack nutrients, fiber and protein and can increase hormones that trigger hunger.
5. Adequate sleep: Sleep deprivation can cause us to reach for comfort foods that are full of sugar and carbs, leading to weight gain. It can also cause an increase in stress hormone and affect insulin sensitivity. Poor sleep can lead to metabolic dysregulation and cause weight gain by disrupting circadian rhythms (8) . The recommended amount of sleep for adults is 7-9 hours per night (9)
There are various controllable factors that influence your metabolism. Start with the basics of regular exercise, hydration, good sleep and unprocessed, fiber rich whole foods. Once you develop a foundation for good health, you can start to add the building blocks of specific whole foods and nutrients.