Metabolism Myths

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There is something wonderfully energizing about this time of year. Maybe it’s the year of us heading back to school - the excitement of newness coupled with the feeling of the unknown but also what could be.

Many of us have college-age family heading off to school, armed with dorm room snacks, decorations and an unlimited pass to the dining hall meal plan. Ahh, to be that age again, have that metabolism and eat whatever we want.

I mean, metabolism is all downhill after age 30, right? Maybe not.

A new study published in Science (it’s a meta-analysis, a collection of studies), consisting of more than 80 co-authors and pooling 40 years of studies, found that metabolism for the participants studied remained stable from ages 20 to 60. No noticeable changes until age 60.

And after age 60, it only decreased less than 1% annually! But how can this be? We forever have thought that we hit about 30 years of age and our metabolism drops through the floor. We have believed that’s why we can’t eat like we did in our 20s.

The study suggests it was for reasons other than metabolism that account for weight gain as we age. Maybe a change in lifestyle, diet, exercise levels or even hormones.

I don’t know about you, but when I was 20, I slept a lot more, I walked campus daily, had a lot more time options for outdoor activities and had less access to disposable income for food.

There is also speculation about muscle mass factoring into this. Muscle tissue is more active tissue and requires more energy (calories) to maintain than does body fat.

Muscle is harder to keep as we age unless we make it a priority through strength training and what we eat. As we age and our hormones change, so do our hormones’ effect on how we hold on to muscle. Without deliberate effort (training and nutrition) to build and/or keep muscle, it’s easy to lose that lean tissue.

So before you begin thinking you are cursed or doing something wrong, realize there is much hope and a lot within your control. As we do often with our members in the gym, let’s break it down to three simple pillars.

Activity

We are often less active as we get older. From just getting outside more with friends to sports and even going out late with pals, being up and about counts for burning more calories.

So doing something more than what we are currently doing now is a great place to start. Go for walks, take up kayaking, golf or tennis. And, of course, start working out if you can.

More activity is key here. And if we want to get into the nitty-gritty, do something cardiovascular a few times per week and also do some weight training a few times per week.

If you want to get more specific, be certain you are doing it right or just have someone lay it out for you, hire a good personal trainer.

Nutrition

When we are less active and burn fewer calories, the calories we consume matter more. And typically when we age, we find ourselves in positions to have more income to buy more food. A stocked pantry or meals out every night can lead to lots of extra calories.

The simplest thing to do here is to find a nutrition program that works for you.

When someone asks us in the gym what’s the best diet, we answer, “The one that you will follow.” So find an eating plan that works for you and follow it.

To learn more, talk to a registered dietician or find a program that is laid out and easy to follow with a proven track record.

Recovery

So often, recovery is overlooked. Sleep falls under this category. I don’t know about you, but I never had trouble sleeping until my late 30s.

In my early 20s, I could sleep all day if I wanted. Not. Any. More.

I wake up at 3:00am and start thinking of all the most random things that really don’t matter except at … 3:00am.

Plus, you have more responsibility, stress and, oh yeah, kids (good luck getting sleep now).

But you can remedy this too, largely. Try to set a bedtime. Next, stay away from all electronics and screens an hour before that time so you can wind down. Then make your room as dark, comfortable and cool as you can.

It will be exciting to see where this research goes. This is only the tip of the iceberg and what we learn from here has the potential to reshape how we live and balance activity and nutrition.

These changes may not allow us to sit with our college-aged kid and finish an entire bag of Doritos, but they might help us get closer to some health and fitness goals.

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