What is metabolism anyway? In very simple terms, it is the rate at which you burn calories.
Your metabolism is affected by lots of different things: sleeping and eating habits, exercise habits – or lack of exercise habits. Age and genetics may also be factors in metabolism. And you probably know this, but women have slower metabolisms than their male counterparts. (Oh, great.)
We can’t do anything about age, genetics or even gender, so that leaves the things we can change.
How many calories do you need to keep your body functioning on a day-to-day basis? That depends on your gender, age and activity level.
What you did in your 20s may not work in your 40s. We certainly do slow down as we age. You might not even notice it until age 50 or 60. But I bet some of you notice it sooner.
What used to be easy becomes more of a challenge. The weight you used to lift is too heavy now. When you were stronger, your metabolism increased right along with your muscle growth. As muscle increases, so does resting metabolism.
You now need that lean muscle tissue more than ever. Just because you are aging is no excuse to stop getting stronger. In fact, it is even more important to lift weights, or take a Pilates or yoga class. Because less muscle equals fewer calories torched.
Lots of people skip meals because they forget to eat, because they’re busy, or maybe it seems like a good way to eat fewer calories. Skipping meals doesn’t work.
In fact, when you skip meals to save calories, your body goes into “save” mode and slows down to conserve the calories it does have. Eating breakfast instead of skipping it gets your calorie-burning motor running. Many times, people who skip meals end up starving later, and consume more calories than they normally would when they do finally sit down to eat.
An active body will function and fire up much better than one that is sedentary. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat.
How about sleep? We are a sleep-deprived nation, and a lack of sleep can mess with our metabolism. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, one sleepless evening can reduce your rate of calorie burn by 5 percent. When we are tired, we also tend to make bad food choices. Try to keep your sleep patterns consistent, with seven to eight hours of sleep a night.
Although metabolism is way more complex than this, there are lessons to take away from these basic facts. You can fight these issues by exercising regularly and by weight training. You might not be able to make up for all the differences that aging brings to your metabolism, but you can certainly make a dent in the over-40 slowdown.
I don’t know about you, but I am not going down without a fight.
Ann Angell is program center manager at the Oxford Y for Now.