Everything You Think You Know About Metabolism Is Wrong

A groundbreaking study shows that the way the body uses energy is radically different from what was previously thought. Here are some surprising facts you need to know.

You probably think of your metabolism as a fire that burns when you exercise to burn calories. Some calories are burned during exercise, but most of what you eat is used to fuel the continued work your cells are doing.

Metabolism Doesn’t Slow Down Significantly as You Age

You’ve heard for years that your metabolism peaks when you’re young and slows down significantly as you approach middle age. But the researchers discovered that metabolism peaks much earlier and drops much later, and it has four distinct phases. From infancy to 1 year of age, metabolism is at its highest, and a baby’s metabolic rate is 50 percent higher than that of an adult. Between the ages of 1 and 20, metabolism drops by about 3 percent per year. Then between the ages of 20 and 60, the metabolism remains stable. After the age of 60, it begins to decline slowly (0.7% per year). That means you’ve burned a steady rate of 2,500 calories per day for 40 years. And a 60-year-old has the same metabolism as a 20-year-old.

Sex Doesn’t Affect Metabolism

Nothing special about male metabolism. Men tend to be larger and their bodies are composed of more lean muscle and less fat. Muscle uses more energy than fat, which explains the difference (the reason men can lose a pound faster than women). The scientists controlled for these factors and found no difference in metabolic rate.

Muscle Mass Matters

The types of cells you have affect the amount of work they do and the energy they burn. A cell in your fat is not as busy as a cell in your muscles. If you have a lot of lean mass, you will burn calories more efficiently than someone with more fat mass. This is why exercise, especially muscle building strength training, can be beneficial.

So Can You Increase Metabolism?

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First, reality check: There’s no proven way to boost metabolism. But exercise and diet make a difference. Think of it this way: You burn a certain number of calories each day, but you decide how you burn them. If you spend them on exercise, you will be much healthier and have less inflammation than someone who does not exercise. The same goes for food. You decide how to nourish your body.

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