You try to be active at least a few times a week, and you aim to eat well. But if your metabolism is in the gutter, your efforts may not entirely pay off.
Metabolism is the process by which our bodies convert food into energy, or glucose. The faster your metabolism works, the more calories you burn and the more efficient your body becomes. Having a slow metabolism can wreak havoc on anyone’s weight-management strategies, so it’s kind of a big deal.
According to Krista Scott-Dixon, Ph.D., of Precision Nutrition, “Metabolism decreases as we age and with loss of lean body mass (which is metabolically active tissue).” However, there are things you can do to keep your metabolism in check:
1. Keep moving
According to the journal Current Opinions in Endocrinology, Diabetes & Obesity, simple movements (fidgeting, to be exact) have been shown to boost metabolism. The study looked at what is called ‘spontaneous physical activity,’ which they posited was inversely related to weight gain. Some people naturally move around more often, but if you’re not one them, start being mindful of your activity. The Mayo Clinic reports that by always being in motion, you can burn up to 500 more calories a day. They suggest pacing, walking, or standing—especially if you’re sitting at a desk all day. Avoid being sedentary…and get fidgeting!
2. Check Your Iron Levels
Women or men with various diseases and disorders—think Crohn’s disease, anemia, or rheumatoid arthritis—may be low on iron. Menstruating women also lose iron during their periods. And a loss of iron—you guessed it—is associated with low metabolism, according to the journal La Clincia Terapeutica.
Related: Shop blood-boosting iron supplements.
Iron does important work: It assists in carrying oxygen to your muscles, so if your iron is low, your muscles will fatigue easily, and your metabolism will slow down. You’ll definitely want to check in with your healthcare provider to see if your iron levels are low. On top of that, start munching on foods high in iron, like beans, dark greens, certain fortified cereals, meats, and dried fruits. You can also take iron supplements.
3. Drink Coffee
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says that coffee stimulates the metabolism (win-win for coffee lovers the world over!). Coffee stimulates your nervous system to break down more fat cells, and it increases adrenaline, leading to increased metabolism. In fact, the study showed that metabolic rates increased significantly after drinking caffeine. Espresso, anyone?
4. Strength Train
Scott-Dixon recommends regular strength training to keep your metabolism on its game. “Build muscle with regular resistance training,” she says—which may mean lifting weights, taking a water cycling class, or even using your own body weight along with some ankle weights.
Weight lifting tears down the muscle tissues, and as the body recovers and rebuilds, it uses up calories (a good thing!) to do so. The journal Applied Physiology says that this process increases the resting metabolic rate (a.k.a. the holy grail of burning more calories while you’re sitting on your couch after a workout).
Strength training also increases anabolic hormones in your body that stimulate muscle recovery and fat burning. So, get yourself some weights and get moving! How often? “Two to three sessions per week is a good minimum for staying healthy,” says exercise physiologist Mike T. Nelson, Ph.D., C.S.C.S.
5. Eat Enough Food
If your body thinks it is starving, it goes into fat conservation mode, which can tank your metabolism. It might sound counter-intuitive, but in order to keep your body feeling like it can burn all the calories you put into it, you have to supply it with enough calories. The publication Biochemistry notes that when you’re not eating, your body’s entire system slows down.
Tip: Never skip breakfast. According to the journal Gastroenterology and Hepatology, breakfast is shown to kickstart your metabolism—so skipping out on morning grub (especially protein) isn’t doing you any favors.
6. Check Your Thyroid
A functioning thyroid is crucial to your metabolic function. The thyroid gland, located at the base of the neck, produces hormones that regulate the body’s metabolic rate. So if your hormones are out of whack, you could see all sorts of trouble. This is why you hear that people with hypothyroidism, or an under-performing thyroid, are often overweight, or seem unable to lose weight despite their wellness efforts.
Related: Could You Have A Thyroid Issue?
Your doctor can perform a simple blood test so that you can learn what your baseline thyroid function is.
7. Give HIIT a Try
Running at a steady pace (steady-state cardio) is great for your heart, your brain, your bones, and cardiovascular system, but it’s not the best way to boost your metabolism. According to the Journal of Obesity, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts are related to increased metabolism. These sometimes short but intense workouts combine repetitive exhaustive cardio (like sprinting) with periods of recovery (like jogging). There’s usually a 2:1 ration of work to recovery.
Basically, HIIT workouts challenge the body by forcing us to activate our cardiorespiratory and circulatory systems. When doing HIIT, the body consumes oxygen at a much higher rate, blasting calories. Try the HIIT workouts here to give your metabolic rate a jolt.