What is Metabolism? A Guide to the Basics

Dr. Josh Axe Contributes to Vitacost Blog | Vitacost.com/blog

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A healthy metabolism is often associated with having a thin or healthy waistline. While there’s no doubt that metabolism affects weight loss, it impacts many other aspects of your life as well. Your metabolism can affect energy levels, brain function and even sex drive. Every single system within the body—from the endocrine system to the digestive system—is linked to your rate of metabolism at the cellular level.

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What is Metabolism and How Does it Work? 

Here’s the simplest metabolism definition: Metabolism is a series of chemical reactions that cells use to maintain homeostasis in the body. This includes the process by which your body takes in calories, combines them with oxygen and then produces usable energy. Even when you’re relaxing or sleeping, your metabolism is still making sure that your body gets the energy it needs for vital operations, such as breathing and circulating blood. Metabolism is truly a life-sustaining aspect of health.

Of course, you don’t usually think about the fact that your metabolism is literally keeping you alive every day. Instead, you focus on how well it’s helping you burn fat.

Your body’s ability to shed extra pounds is linked to individual basal metabolism (the rate at which an inactive, resting organism expends energy) and is affected by a number of factors, including gender, age, body size, body composition, genetic makeup and activity level. So someone who has more muscle mass typically burns more calories; whereas, an older person typically burns less due to lower muscle mass and a slowing metabolism. In fact, increasing physical activity is one of the best ways to control how many calories you burn.

Other aspects of your lifestyle, including sleeping habits, can also change your metabolism for better or for worse. There’s growing research that says “sleep deprivation and sleep disorders may have profound metabolic and cardiovascular implications.”

Causes and symptoms of a slow-functioning metabolism

There are several major metabolism death foods. These include fruit juice, refined grains, processed vegetable oils and so-called “healthy” snacks – which are actually high in carbs and sodium, yet low in valuable nutrients.

Another major metabolism offender is artificial sweeteners, including sucralose and aspartame. Just one diet soda per day has been shown to significantly increase metabolic syndrome risk factors, including an increased waist circumference, weight gain and high fasting blood glucose levels.

When your metabolism is negatively impacted due to one or several factors, it can result in numerous health consequences. You may notice weight gain, fatigue, muscle weakness, thyroid dysfunction, blood sugar fluctuations, hormone imbalances, sugar cravings and even digestive issues. Other signs of a less-than-optimal metabolism include bloating after eating, constipation, frequently feeling cold, low libido, irregular periods and struggling to lose weight.

The Top Ways to Boost Your Metabolism Naturally:

Metabolism power foods

Now that you know the foods that are major metabolism killers, it’s time to focus on eating the foods that can actually help boost your metabolism—foods that can assist the body in using and expending energy.

Incorporating high-quality protein into your meals and snacks is certainly a must if you want to boost your metabolism. High-protein foods also help keep you feeling fuller for longer, which is especially helpful if you’re trying to lose weight. Some protein-rich food options include cage-free organic eggs, grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, and raw dairy products like kefir.

In addition to more protein, you can up your intake of spicy foods like cayenne, chili, and jalapeno peppers, all of which contain an active compound called capsaicin. Research has linked capsaicin consumption to an increase in metabolic rate and core body temperature.

Warming spices like ginger, cinnamon, and black pepper are also great choices that have been linked with increased fat burning. Ginger has been used since ancient times to treat metabolic health concerns and has been shown to increase thermogenesis in the body when consumed. Try using it in fresh or dried form in a smoothie or stir fry. You can also drink hot ginger tea with lemon.

Try HIIT and lift weights 

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is especially great for upping your metabolic rate. HIIT workouts involve intervals that vary between all-out physical effort and short periods of rest, triggering a metabolism boost that can last long after a workout is over. Studies have shown that while HIIT workouts may burn less calories during the actual workout when compared to steady-state cardio exercise, HIIT can result in more cumulative fat loss due to its overall positive effect on metabolism.

Lifting weights can also have a positive impact on metabolism. Weight lifting increases lean muscle mass, and muscle naturally burns more calories than fat. In general, someone with a higher muscle-fat ratio will have a higher basal metabolic rate than someone with a lower muscle-fat ratio, even if their body weight is exactly the same.

Increase your NEAT 

NEAT stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis. It simply refers to the exercise you do each day without trying or thinking about it. This includes activities like mopping the kitchen floor, raking leaves in the yard or walking from your parking space to the grocery store door. Scientifically, NEAT is defined as the energy expended for everything you do that is not sleeping, eating or organized exercise.

It’s not surprising people with jobs that require physical labor, such as farmers, have high NEAT. This proves that, while regular physical exercise is an important tool to boosting metabolism, moving your body throughout each and every day is also key. So take the stairs, cut the grass and take the dog on a long walk, because all of this everyday activity really does add up. As research points out, “even trivial physical activities increase metabolic rate substantially.”