If you've ever had trouble losing weight, you may have placed the blame on having a slow metabolism.
"The rate at which your body uses energy is called your basal metabolic rate," explained Family Medicine physician Timothy Wagner, D.O. "Your metabolism involves a complex network of hormones and enzymes that not only convert food into fuel, but also affect how efficiently you burn that fuel.
"Because metabolism establishes the rate at which we burn our calories, it also affects how quickly we gain or lose weight. Some people burn calories at a slower rate than others, but there are many other factors that can affect a person's metabolism."
Age: "As people get older, their ability to quickly use up energy diminishes and metabolism can slow," Dr. Wagner continued. "It is estimated that metabolism naturally slows about 5 percent per decade after the age of 40."
Lack of exercise: "Exercise not only helps you expend more calories while you're physically active, but there's also some evidence that it may increase your resting metabolic rate," Dr. Wagner continued. "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that adults 65 and older get two and a half hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week and do strengthening exercises on all the body's major muscle groups at least twice a week.
"Older people also tend to have less muscle mass than younger people, which translates to a reduced metabolic rate. Since muscle burns more calories than fat, even while at rest, the more muscles you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate, which means the more calories your body will be burning."
- On average, a pound of muscle in our bodies burns 35 calories a day, while each pound of fat burns just 2 calories per day.
Stress: When you are stressed, your body releases cortisol, which is a hormone produced by the adrenal system that is linked to weight gain. "There are definite links between psychological stress and the adrenal system," Dr. Wagner said. "To make sure that stress isn't making it harder for you to take off pounds, try to calm yourself by reducing the controllable stressors in your life. For example, try regular physical activity, deep breathing, or seek help from a counselor."
Poor sleep habits: The lack of sleep is significant enough to alter a person's metabolic processes enough to give them more insulin resistance, which is a risk factor for diabetes. Insulin resistance has also been associated with obesity. To increase the chances of boosting metabolism, adults should get seven to nine hours of sleep each night.
Weight: Extra weight causes your body to work harder just to sustain itself at rest, so in most instances, an overweight person's metabolism is usually running a bit faster.
"That's one reason it's almost always easiest to lose weight at the start of a diet, and harder later on," he said. "When people are very overweight, their metabolism is already running at a higher rate, so any small cut in calories can result in an immediate weight loss.
"However, when significant amounts of body fat and muscle are lost, our bodies need fewer calories to sustain themselves. That helps explain why it's so easy to regain weight after you've worked so hard to lose it."
Diet: It may be tempting to severely restrict your calories or skip meals to lose weight, but that may be a self-defeating practice. "Not eating enough can actually cause your metabolism to slow down in an attempt to conserve calories," Dr. Wagner advised. "Instead, small, but frequent meals help keep your metabolism in high gear, and that means you'll burn more calories overall. When you put too many hours between meals, your metabolism actually slows down to compensate."
Medications: Certain drugs can make it easier to put on pounds and harder to lose them. "Some antipsychotic drugs used for bipolar disorder and depression can contribute to patients putting on significant amounts of weight," Dr. Wagner added. "If you feel your medications may be causing your body to hang on to extra weight, talk to your physician. He or she may be able to switch you to another drug that's less likely to have those unwanted side effects."
Illnesses: "There are some medical conditions that can make losing weight more difficult," Dr. Wagner stated. "For example, thyroid problems like hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone, can cause body functions to slow down and weight gain to result. In men, low testosterone levels can also have the same effect."
"Medications are available to relieve most of these conditions or eliminate these symptoms. If you've been trying to lose weight for some time and have been unsuccessful, ask your doctor about screening tests for these conditions."
In summary, your best bet for keeping your metabolism functioning efficiently is to build muscles; snack on low-calorie, high-protein foods; get enough sleep; reduce stress and keep moving.
Tim Wagner is affiliated with Salem Community Hospital's active medical staff and Firestone Health Care. Firestone Healthcare offices are located at 28885 state Route 62 in Damascus; 132 North Market Street in East Palestine; and 2364 Southeast Boulevard in Salem. Dr. Wagner is currently accepting appointments, which are available by calling Firestone Health Care's Damascus office at 330-537-4661; or the East Palestine office at 330-426-9484.