Your rate of metabolism affects everything from how you feel to how much you can eat every day to maintain your weight. In this post, you will learn how to increase metabolism in seniors.
It’s an unfortunate fact of life that as we age, our metabolism slows down. Most of us notice this naturally as it becomes harder and harder to win the battle of the bulge after every year has passed.
This is because most of the calories you consume are used by your metabolism. Activity levels play a role, but it’s your basal metabolism that dictates how much you can eat without gaining weight.
There are a few mechanisms that cause your metabolism to decrease as you age and we’ll get to that in a moment.
It’s important to realize that your rate of metabolism generally affects how alert you feel and it even affects how fast you heal and how well medications work.
So a slow metabolism will have a lot of negative effects on your health besides the most obvious one, which is gaining weight in the form of fat.
A slow metabolism will mean you can eat less food since your basal metabolism requires less energy. All excess energy you consume from food will be stored as body fat.
Fortunately, there is a lot you can do to prevent this! With the following three tips you can increase your metabolism to youthful levels in a matter of a few months. I’m sorry, there really isn’t a way to do it overnight except for certain drugs.
What is metabolism
Metabolism is a term that includes all the chemical processes of your body it needs to perform to sustain itself. This includes everything from digestion to pumping blood, breathing, cellular functions, and central nervous system activity.
All this requires energy which we get either in the form of food or by breaking down stored energy within our body (fat and muscle).
Metabolism can be divided into two distinct categories, which are catabolism and anabolism. Catabolism means breaking down tissues and dietary components to create substances that your cells can use as energy to function. Losing fat, for example, is catabolism as is the digestion of food.
Anabolism means building or repairing new tissue with the energy that’s produced through catabolism. Your body is constantly repairing and replacing cells so anabolism happens constantly. A classic example of anabolism is building new muscle tissue, which requires a lot of energy.
When people talk about metabolism, they are usually actually referring to basal metabolic rate (BMR), which essentially means how much energy your body consumes at rest to perform all the vital functions.
Besides BMR your body uses energy to perform activities. Moving requires a lot of energy since your muscles require fuel. Also thinking intensely can increase your energy consumption. Not as much as physical activity but it can have an effect.
Finally, the digestion of food requires energy as it’s a complicated chemical process. Different nutrients require different amounts of energy to break down so what you eat affects your energy expenditure slightly.
So when we simply talk about how much energy your metabolism consumes, it depends on your BMR, your daily activity levels, and your diet.
What causes your metabolism to slow down as you age
Studies have shown that our basal metabolic rate slows down in an almost linear manner with age.
So what causes your metabolism to slow down as you age? Well, there are a couple of significant factors and many smaller ones.
The two key factors are loss of muscle mass and reduced activity levels. You see, as we age we start to lose muscle mass and other lean tissue mass.
This is partly due to reduced activity levels (which of course doesn’t concern everyone) and partly due to hormonal changes and other age and lifestyle-related degradation in energy metabolism.
Muscle mass has a very important function in your metabolic rate and it has even been suggested that loss of skeletal muscle mass accounts for all the age-related reduction in metabolism.
Your activity levels affect your muscle mass and likewise, your muscle mass affects your activity levels because many activities are easier to perform when you are strong.
Besides muscle mass, natural hormonal changes affect your metabolic rate. They also affect your muscle mass. As we age our levels of sex steroid hormones (testosterone, estrogen) reduce and cause loss of muscle mass and strength and affect our cellular metabolism.
Besides steroid hormones, thyroid hormones and metabolic hormones like insulin can affect your metabolism. Hypothyroidism is much more common in seniors than in younger people and insulin resistance can affect how well your muscle cells use the energy you consume.
Tip 1: Strength training
So as we established, loss of muscle mass is the single most important factor for reduced metabolic rate in seniors. Fortunately, there is a very effective remedy for this!
Strength training, also known as resistance or weight training is a form of exercise that aims to improve your strength levels. Our body will naturally adapt to strength training by increasing skeletal muscle mass.
To increase muscle mass, your body will need a lot of energy. This means that simply building the muscle mass will increase your metabolism but that’s not all. Actually maintaining the muscle mass costs energy.
This is why the amount of muscle mass correlates with your metabolic rate. Muscle mass is expensive for your body to maintain and thus it will only maintain it for need. You create that need with strength training.
Strength training increases your metabolism in three ways. Firstly, performing the required exercises will consume energy. Secondly, strength training causes microscopic damage to your muscle cells. Recovering from this requires energy. Finally, maintaining muscle mass requires energy.
Many seniors have huge misconceptions about strength training, its effects, and safety. The fact is that strength training works very well in seniors to improve strength levels, muscle mass, and overall health parameters.
There is also no fear of becoming bulky or looking overly muscular. The visual changes are very moderate. To build any significant visible muscle mass you need to train and eat correctly for years.
That said, it takes much less work to get the health benefits and increase metabolism. You can learn more about strength training for seniors here.
Tip 2: Stay active
While strength training can do most of the work of increasing your metabolic rate, staying active in other ways is also very important.
This is because being active will help you reap the benefits of strength training by actually applying the increased strength and using the muscle mass. This will also help you further maintain and increase the muscle mass you gain from strength training.
Staying active also helps you reduce the effect of reduced BMR because overall activity levels will increase your daily caloric consumption.
So lead an active lifestyle and try to include activities like yard work, home improvement, walking, golf, kayaking, cycling, etc. in your daily and weekly routines.
This will help you increase your metabolism, overall health and simply enjoy life more than being sedentary.
Tip 3: Check your diet
Diet plays two roles in controlling your metabolism. Firstly the things you eat, and how much of them you eat affect your metabolism.
Secondly, your diet plays a key role in maintaining your weight. At some point, you have to accept that you simply can’t eat as many high-calorie foods as you could when younger.
But if you remember in the beginning I mentioned that different foods use different up different amounts of energy to break down and digest. This is called the thermic effect of food.
All food is made up of three macronutrients. Carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Of these protein has the highest thermic effect and fat the second. Carbohydrates are generally very easy to digest and thus require little energy to metabolize.
Protein plays an important role in both building and maintaining muscle mass. It’s very common for seniors to eat too little protein.
Fats are incredibly important for your health but you need to eat the right kinds to stay healthy. Fats are the building blocks of hormones and many other vital compounds in your body.
Carbohydrates are simply your body’s preferred energy source. They shouldn’t be avoided but you should only consume enough of them to keep up with your energy demands.
My recommendation is to eat a diet that has relatively high amounts of both protein and healthy fats. This will increase the thermic effect of your food, help you increase your muscle mass and optimize your hormone levels.
You shouldn’t avoid carbs all together but instead, eat relatively low amounts by substituting sugary and starchy snacks, etc. with vegetables and tubers like potatoes.
Tip 4: Lose fat
While muscle mass increases your basal metabolic rate, high fat mass can actually have an opposite effect along with several other negative health effects.
I know the irony in this since most people are looking for ways to increase their metabolism to keep the fat off. But having a slow metabolism will likely lead to fat gain and fat gain will further lower your metabolism.
This is because increased fat mass, especially in the abdominal cavity is associated with metabolic diseases like insulin and glucose intolerance, high cholesterol, and atherosclerosis.
Fat mass is also hormonally active as it contains the enzyme aromatase that converts testosterone into estrogen. Fat mass also affects your satiety hormones leptin and ghrelin.
Besides losing muscle mass with age, we tend to increase our fat mass with age. If you can prevent or reverse both of these changes, your metabolism and overall health will likely improve significantly.
But there is one huge caveat. You can’t crash diet and you have to be very careful with weight loss. Losing large amounts of body weight will cause your metabolism to slow down, sometimes permanently.
That’s why it’s wise to slowly improve your body composition by incorporating strength training and a healthy diet into your lifestyle.
You can learn more about fat loss for seniors here.
Tip 5: Supplements and medication
My final tip is to check your medications and supplements. Both of these can have negative or positive effects on your metabolism, so if you have noticed recent weight gain without any logical explanation, check your meds.
Many medications, including painkillers, antidepressants, and blood pressure medications can affect your metabolism. If you are suspecting some of your medications are affecting your metabolism and weight gain it’s worth it to go over it with your doctor. Chances are there is a more suitable option for you.
I would avoid using supplements that are marketed for increasing your metabolism because the fact is that most of them simply don’t work and if they do, the effects are minimal.
You are much better off investing your money in healthy food and a gym membership or an activity you like. If you really want to use a supplement, check out my recommendation for best supplements for seniors here.
I hope you found my tips for increasing metabolism useful. To a degree slowing down of metabolism is inevitable as you age but fortunately, there is a lot you can do to counter the negative effects.
So if you are having trouble keeping your weight healthy, start doing strength training right away, increase your overall activity levels, check your diet, try to burn off the fat! If you are on medications, go over them with your doctor to see if any of them are affecting your metabolism.
Old age doesn’t have to come with reduced metabolism, fat gain, and frailty. There is plenty you can due to prevent and reverse that. But you have to put in the effort. So start today!
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14 thoughts on “How to Increase Metabolism in Seniors [3 simple tips]”
Very informative website here. I’m not a senior yet, but I have noticed a decrease in my metabolism over the last 20 years, i.e., I have to work much harder to achieve the same goals now than then. Physical exercise, especially resistance (weight) training have numerous benefits to any population, especially senior citizens. Some exercises that involve large muscle groups (e.g., squats and deadlifts) can actually increase androgenic hormones like testosterone. I have been trying to modify what and when I eat lately after reading a book on insulin resistance, which does increase with time (age). A lot of good information in this site.
Glad you liked it Ian! Age definitely plays a role in your metabolism but if you have realistic expectations and stick with strength training, there is no reason why you wouldn’t see great results at an older age as well. It’s true that squats and deadlifts can increase testosterone levels a bit acutely but this itself will not have any significant effect. But the effects of strength training and diet on insulin resistance, for example, will likely increase your androgen levels. Heavy lifting will also activate the androgen receptors within your skeletal muscle, which means your muscles will benefit more from the testosterone you already have. Good luck with the training and diet! Report back with your results.
Nice Article – I myself love strength training, and yes metabolism slows down. I find with exercise you have to like what you are doing or you won’t stick with it. I enjoyed reading, thank you
Thank you Millie! I agree with you. The most important part of any exercise routine is that you have to like it. You can force yourself to do something you don’t like only for so long before giving up. That said, you don’t really know what you enjoy before hand before giving it a real try. For example many people might hate the concept of going to the gym due to their own negative preconceptions but might actually end up loving it after a month. All the best to you!
Thank you so much for this inspiring post! I have been translating and showing it to my grandparents and they are all hooked up. Thank you so much!
PS: I haven’t been able to do the same with the parents of my boyfriend, they are Italian and a little too proud. But your advice is really helpful and I will make them engage in some of those things, that they won’t even realize 😉
Thanks for the comment Jana! I’m glad you and your grandparents liked it. I know dignity and bride can keep many people from taking in new information, no matter how beneficial it would be for them. The best way to get past this is by giving a tip to intrigue interest and then wait until they ask for more information. This way you get to help out without tipping on any toes :). Hope this helps!
Being a senior looking for answers, your article appealed to me. Informative. I will look to add your tips into my days.
Glad you liked it!
Very informative post, thanks for the read. I’m not a senior myself but passionate about health & wellbeing and agree with everything you have written 🙂
As a side note, Pilates is an awesome way for seniors (and anyone for that matter) to keep in shape and strengthen muscles. Highly recommend!
Glad you liked it Kiara! Pilates is definitely a good option for maintaining muscle mass and improving strength. I did a short piece on it some time ago but I plan to write more about Pilates in the future so stay tuned!
Very good informative piece
Will take on board your recommendations , very much appreciated
Glad to hear that Martin! Good luck with the training.
This is a great article on metabolism for seniors. I’m 78 and do strength training 6 days a week and cardio every day.
But…last year, I had a bout with depression and lost my appetite. As a result, my metabolism slowed markedly, and I lost 11# of muscle in 2 weeks.
Since then, my energy has been very-low, and I spend most of the day in bed. I noticed that you wrote that one’s metabolism can be permanently lowered; can you elucidate on that?
Glad you liked the article Brian! Permanently might be a bit exaggerated but the idea is that severe caloric deficit and loss of muscle mass (or body mass in general) can and usually will lead to adaptations that reduce your basal metabolic rate. It can take a long time to build back to and I believe there is some evidence that these adaptations can be virtually permanent in some individuals. In most cases, it’s likely that as you regain body weight, your metabolism will return to its former glory. The older you are, the harder it is to gain back muscle mass. In the worst case scenario, a quick and significant fat loss will lead to loss of muscle mass and when you try to get it back it comes back mostly fat. That’s why it’s always better to adjust your weight slowly and use exercise as a tool to maintain muscle mass.
Good job with the training by the way. Keep up the good work!