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Rev Up Your Metabolism

by Nicole Dorsey Straff

Seven strategies to help you burn calories, tighten and tone, and become more active in the new year

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Photo credit: Robin Jolin

The rate at which a human body burns calories is referred to, simply, as your metabolic rate. But metabolism represents the total number of calories your body burns each day to perform all activities including breathing, digesting, walking and thinking. Physiologists agree that you can only modify your own metabolic rate by roughly 10 to 20 percent.
Here’s the shortcut: The fitter you are, and the more muscles you have, the faster you burn calories, because muscle is so metabolically active, says Dr. Miriam Nelson, PhD, director of the John Hancock Research Center on Physical Activity, Nutrition, and Obesity Prevention at Tufts University in Boston. To do the math, lean tissues—including organs and muscles—on average, burn 14 calories a pound per day, while fat tissues only burn roughly three calories a pound per day!
The clearest exercise indication for improving a slow metabolism is lifting weights a minimum of two non-consecutive days per week, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. But that’s not all. “Maintain your total energy expenditure as you age with consistent and moderate strength training and high-intensity aerobic activity—but you’ll need to do more of both,” adds Dr. Nelson. Research at Tufts University confirms that “a significant” regimen of weight lifting (8 to 10 serious strength exercises per session) may budge your metabolic barometer, but warns the transition takes time and effort.
Before you start running marathons and lifting 50-pound barbells, however, note there are several other ways to ramp up your metabolic rate, says Avigale LaGrass, director of spa and wellness at Turtle Bay Resort in Oahu, HI. “Certain teas, for instance, have nutritional effects on your metabolism since you do incinerate calories more efficiently when your skin and your digestive system are cleansed and running smoothly,” she says.
Metabolism is a sophisticated balance of detoxing, exercise, healthy living and hydration. Here are seven ways to jump-start yours.

1. Drink green tea but add oolong and kombucha.

You can take green tea in extract or herbal form too, says LaGrass. “Drinking 10 glasses of liquid a day [including water] to detox will help your metabolism recover from slow-downs such as jet lag and chronic stress,” she says. Research from the National Institutes of Health shows certain enzymes and minerals (catechins) in tea leaves and roots boost calorie burning and immune function. Studies found drinking some kombucha and green tea may be more effective at suppressing appetite than drinking just plain water all day long.

2. Detox from the outside in, and the inside out.

“Ask any massage or spa therapist who specializes in lymphatic drainage massages to help you increase circulation and digestion and initiate detoxification, which all connects to your metabolism,” says LaGrass, who incorporates tea-based body treatments at the Nalu Spa in Turtle Bay. To start to detox from the outside, try dry brushing and other exfoliating and healing treatments that slough off dead skin cells. Avigale recommends warm seaweed body wraps that penetrate the epidermis to heat you up internally, as well as treatments featuring mineral-rich algae, coffee and sea salts.

3. Do your supplement homework.

At the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, some studies point to choline as an essential nutrient that even healthy people simply don’t make enough of to synthesize for proper energy metabolism. One amino acid lysine, and L-carnitine, a micronutrient associated with energy metabolism, show some promise. Aging and chronic diseases also increase your need for some nutrients, says Dr. Nelson. “Rule out other slow metabolism possibilities first such as thyroid disorders and diabetes, then check with a doctor about supplements,” she says.

4. Eat a healthy breakfast and don’t skip meals.

Your muscles and metabolism thrive on food, so when you crash diet, or restrict your intake to below 1,000 calories per day, your digestive system will respond by slowing way down, explains registered dietician Joy Bauer, best-selling author of Joy Bauer’s Food Cures. “It all goes back to increasing your exercise and practicing healthy habits, like juicing and walking to help your body become a more efficient fat-fighting machine,” she says.

5. Eat snacks regularly but make them mostly spicy.

Have a small meal or a snack every three to four hours to keep your metabolism cranking. Studies at Tufts University show people who snack regularly – eating a protein-rich healthy snack of no more than 300 or 400 calories between mealtimes—adopt a more efficient metabolism. One small study in the UK split up two groups and the one that never skipped a meal and ate a spicy soup for snacking actually consumed 60 fewer calories at the next meal and burned an extra 10 calories by end of the day. In your next salad or scramble, be generous with chopped red or green chili peppers, cayenne pepper, hot sauces, jalapeños, chipotle and spicy salsas.

6. Stick to leaner proteins and practice portion control.

Simple rule of thumb, says Bauer: Eat and drink 50 percent of your ideal body weight in lean protein grams with healthiest options including eggs, organic tofu, beans and other legumes. Experts also agree that people who eat a high-protein breakfast control their hunger longer and maintain a leaner body better.

7. Avoid alcohol, it causes significant slowdown.

Your body can’t store alcohol, so it must use it right away and prioritizes that double margarita over metabolizing your own body fat or bringing nutrients to your brain. Alcohol may also impair your ability to absorb vitamins from the food you eat. Worth it?

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