It’s one of those annoying facts of life but, as we get older, our jeans tend to feel a tad tighter and we can’t squeeze into that little black dress quite so easily. This is partly due to the fact that we burn less energy which leads to the pounds piling on.
“Your metabolism slows down after the age of 30 and people typically pack on 20 to 30 pounds over the next three decades,” says top TV medic Dr Michael Mosley, who is author of new book The Fast 800 (£8.99, Short Books). “That is mainly because we become less active, so muscle turns to fat.”
For most women, however, it’s when we hit our 40s that we really begin to notice a difference. NHS weight loss consultant surgeon and founder of vavistalife.com, Dr Sally Norton, says that we need around 300 fewer calories per day at this age, partly due to the decline in muscle ratio. “We lose about eight percent of our muscle per decade over the age of 40 and muscle burns more energy than fat,” she explains.
What’s more, our hormones also begin to change in our 40s and this has a huge affect on how our bodies work. “Cortisol, insulin, oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone are all affected,” says health coach Elaine Luck, who emphasises the increasing importance of a healthy and balanced lifestyle at this age. “Eating the right foods, moving in a way that works for you, keeping stress levels down and getting enough good quality sleep is what’s going to do that,” she says, “Follow these rules and your metabolism will keep on firing.”
Maximise your metabolic rate
Try these simple health hacks to fire up your metabolism and stay slim
Sneak in some moves
“One of the best things you can do is build more activity into your life, whether it’s walking, running or cycling,” says Dr Mosley. “But whatever you do, put in some intensity, even if it is just walking fast enough to get out of breath. A recent study showed running up two flights of stairs three times a week is enough to give your metabolism a boost.”
In our 40s, we need to increase our intake of natural foods, says health coach Elaine Luck. “This means plenty of colourful veg and fruits, and loads of seeds, which will help get amazing fats to our brains and bodies and actually make them fuel and function better. If that happens, our metabolisms can crack on, full steam ahead.”
Turn up the heat
Spicing up your supper with chillies could boost the rate at which your body burns calories by up to 15 percent, according to motivational weight loss expert Marisa Peer. This is because they contain phytonutrients called curcuminoids which help to speed up the metabolism.
Be a fidget
If you constantly jiggle your legs, twiddle your pen or tap your feet, you’ll burn up to 200 more calories a day. A study at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota found that one of the strongest factors differentiating overweight people from underweight ones was the amount of NEAT (or non-exercise activity thermogenesis, otherwise known as fidgeting) they packed into their day.
Research shows that regular fasting, where you cut your calories twice a week, can help to boost your metabolic health. Known as the 5:2 diet, it means eating normally for five days a week then reducing your intake for two days to reboot your system “Sticking to 800 calories twice a week will fire up your metabolic rate,” say Dr Mosley.
Get a good night’s sleep
Lack of sleep can elevate your cortisol levels, a stress hormone that makes you hungrier and slows down your metabolism. It will also decrease your leptin levels, the satiety hormone, which can tell your brain to eat more calories than you actually need, so make sure you’re getting enough shut-eye!
Pump it up!
“The more muscle tissue you have, the higher your basal metabolic rate will be,’ says Dr Nicola Lowe, senior lecturer in nutrition at the University of Central Lancashire. “Muscle tissue is metabolically active and uses energy even at rest, whereas adipose (fat) tissue does nothing at rest. Muscles move, requiring energy, while fat is just storage.” So increasing muscle tone, through loadbearing exercises such as weight lifting, will dramatically increase your metabolism.
Your 7-day plan
Got your metabolic rate up with one of these daily exercises from sports science specialist Dan Worboys (highwoodshealthclinic.co.uk). Do four sets of 30 seconds each, with a 30-second break in between.
Stand with your hands on the back of your head and your feet shoulder-width apart, then lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Pause, and then return to the starting position.
Start by lying flat on your back with your knees bent, your arms by your hips and your feet hip-width apart. Push through your heels to lift your hips up while squeezing your glutes. Try to create one diagonal line from your shoulders to your knees. Pause, then lower back down.
Lower your forearms to the floor with your elbows positioned under your shoulders and your hands shoulder-width apart. Step your feet back, tighten your abs and push your body up maintaining a straight line from your heels to the top of your head. Hold.
Run up and down your stairs in 30-second bursts. If you don’t have stairs at home, try running up the escalator on your way to work or using the stairs instead of the lift.
Start in a plank position then move your right knee into your chest. As your knee draws to the chest, pull your abs in tight to keep a solid core. Quickly switch and move your left knee in. At the same time you push your right leg back, move your left knee in to the chest using the same form. Continue to switch knees.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Step forward with your right foot, while keeping your left foot planted. Bend your right leg until your right thigh is in line with your knee and parallel to the floor. Return to starting position and repeat for opposite leg.
This is one of the simplest but most effective ways to kick-start your body. Just walk quickly anywhere you like – around your garden, in the park or up and down your street – anything that gets your metabolism racing will do the trick!