But before you start tinkering with the complex biochemical process that converts everything you eat and drink into energy, consider this: What if you've been thinking about the whole thing all wrong?
"Everyone either thinks their metabolism is fast or slow, but that concept is flawed."
Dan Reardon, MD, CEO and co-founder of DNA testing company FitnessGenes, has made a career of studying the human body—and believes that there are some massive metabolism myths prevailing that need to be debunked.
Starting with the very concept of being able to speed it up. "There are 180 metabolic pathways, or things that affect your metabolism," he asserts. "Everyone either thinks their metabolism is fast or slow, but that concept is flawed."
Here, Dr. Reardon sets the record straight about the 4 biggest misconceptions about metabolism.
1. The way people talk about metabolism is wrong
Instead of fast or slow metabolism, Dr. Reardon uses the terms "inefficient" and "efficient." And get this: What people would consider "fast metabolism" is what he dubs as "inefficient."
"It's inefficient because it means the person has variations on their receptor cells that keep them from actually storing food as energy in the body," he explains. "But people with what is perceived as a slower metabolism actually are running more efficiently because their cell receptors are turning the food into stored energy."
And yes, that can lead to weight gain—but it's not because things are running incorrectly. Your body is supposed to turn food into stored energy.
So as you learn more about how your body metabolizes certain foods and drinks, you can figure out when to eat—and how much—to keep things running optimally (without storing too much extra).
2. If you're an athlete, you want a "slow metabolism"
You'd think that having a fast—or, ahem, inefficient—metabolism would be the goal, since efficient metabolizers are at a higher risk of gaining weight. But Dr. Reardon says that if you're active, you actually want the opposite for peak performance.
"People with an inefficient metabolism are going to have a harder time maintaining energy when it comes to endurance, whereas someone with an efficient metabolism is going to be able to store energy longer," he explains. That said, he also points out that you have to be eating food that's actually good for you to get the right type of fuel.
3. The type of exercise you do matters
Besides choosing a workout based on what you actually like to do (um, duh), you're probably considering how hard you want to go or what you want to tone,. (Hell, you may even be checking your horoscope to find the ultimate sweaty fit.) But metabolism-wise, Dr. Reardon advises opting for whatever's going to get you that afterburn effect.
"The energy expenditure for 30 minutes of intense interval training versus 30 minutes of low-intensity exercise is vastly different," he says. "You won't burn as many calories after a low-intensity workout." In other words: While that barre class is going improve your posture and flexibility, a HIIT workout will give your metabolism a boost.
4. Your metabolism doesn't slow down as you age
How many times have you heard someone complain that as soon as they turned a certain age, they just couldn't eat and drink the way they used to? Get ready to have your mind blown (again): "Age will never be a factor on your metabolism if you keep acting the way you did when you were 21," Dr. Reardon claims.
"One of the biggest downfalls of modern society is that we even use age as a reference point," he continues. He believes that there's this perception because as you get older, you start subscribing to certain lifestyle changes people expect you to make.
Maybe when you were 17, you were really active and spending just a few hours a week at your school's library—whereas now that you're older, you're chained to your desk all day. Or you used to play team sports with regular set practice times, but now you just work out whenever it fits into your schedule. Even taking menopause into account, Dr. Reardon believes that acting the way you did at 21 is enough to keep your metabolism from changing.
So how to tap into those lifestyle benefits when you've got to, you know, make an appearance at the office? Dr. Reardon says that if you prioritize eating inflammation-fighting foods, staying active, getting enough sleep, and limiting stress, you'll keep your metabolism running properly.
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