‘Metabolism’ is one of those health-related words we often hear in discussions focused on diet, weight and exercise; but do we really know what it means? Metabolism typically is talked about in simplistic terms, as if it’s some sort of biomechanical device that runs our body like an engine powers a car, when all we need to do is fuel it three times a day so we can enjoy the ride. However, there’s more to metabolism than just something to keep revved up if we want to drop the pounds.
Our metabolism is the technical term for a process, one in which our body takes what we put into it – via eating and drinking – and converts it into energy. It encompasses all of the biochemical and hormonal reactions in the body, per newhealthguide.org, that keep our bodily organs and cells operating at optimal capacity (as long as we feed it properly and consistently).
This is so we can do what we need and want to do in life while our body does all the things it needs to do in order to function properly. That is, the energy produced by the metabolic process not only gives us the zip needed for us to put in a 40-hour work week, clean the dishes, brush our teeth, mow the yard or play 18 holes of golf; it also supports on a 24/7 basis our bodily functions such as our beating heart, digestion of food, the lungs with which we breathe and the eyes with which we see. Proper nutrition is at the heart of a healthy metabolism.
We all have to eat and drink, but not as often or as much as we might think we need to do, thanks to our all-knowing metabolism. Even though our finely tuned metabolism is in operational mode every waking moment of our lives, it also is purring away as we sleep. It knows on its own how to slow down, when needed, if it senses that the consumed food in our bodies is in short supply. At such time our metabolism shows down, conserving the release of energy, so that we can survive longer. In this way, our metabolism is programmed to conserve our energy for when we positively need it, as dummies.com puts it.
“Slow Metabolism” vs. “Fast Metabolism”
How often have you heard it said about a person who somehow manages to keep off the pounds despite a voracious appetite that he or she must have a “fast metabolism”? The rest of us look jealously at someone like that and then we look at ourselves and shrug off those extra unwanted pounds as merely being the fault of a “slow metabolism.” Actually, both conclusions may be faulty. The truth is, the more physically active you are – and that even includes being fidgety – the more calories you burn, per mayoclinic.org. More than likely, that thin(ner) person with the alleged “fast metabolism,” probably is just more active than most other people and eats fewer calories, even if they don’t see themselves as doing anything out of the ordinary.
Factors That Affect Metabolism
A number of factors can affect our metabolism. Here are four of them, outlined at newhealthguide.org:
- Age. The older we get, the harder it is to ramp up our metabolism speed to where it used to be. Studies have shown that our metabolic rate decreases about 5% each decade after we turn 40, and the reason is our loss of muscle mass during that time.
- Gender. Males generally have more muscle mass than females do; therefore, men will burn calories faster than women.
- Heredity. Picture your parents and grandparents; that will give you an indication of what’s in store for your future and your metabolic rate going forward.
- Weight. One of the benefits of being of larger stature and greater muscle mass is that you burn more calories than thinner people do. That’s because it takes more energy for larger people to move. Two men six feet tall: one weighs 250, the other 170. They both walk two miles in 35 minutes. Which man burns more calories? Most likely, the former.
Short of a major overhaul to your daily eating habits, there are a few changes you can make to your eating habits in order to increase your metabolism. They include eating more but smaller meals throughout the day instead of the usual two or three bigger meals – this will help you maintain a high metabolic rate while stabilizing your blood-sugar level. Also, eat more protein and iron-rich foods. We’ll soon go into more detail about metabolism and nutrition.