Gaining weight as you age doesn’t have to be inevitable.
You probably don’t need scientists to tell you that your metabolism slows with age. The average woman gains 1 1/2 pounds a year during her adult life—enough to pack on 40-plus pounds by her 50s, if she doesn’t combat the roller coaster of hormones, muscle loss, and stress that conspires to slow her fat-burning engine. Thankfully, there’s a way to help rev it up again. Midlife weight gain isn’t inevitable: By eating metabolism-boosting foods and following the path, you’ll sleep better, have more energy, feel firmer, and notice your clothes are looser in as little as two weeks. Here’s how to increase your metabolism.
Cut calories—but not too much
Sure, losing weight involves cutting calories, but limiting your calorie intake too much can deliver a double whammy to your metabolism. When you eat less than you need for basic biological function (about 2,000 calories for most women), your body throws the brakes on your metabolism. It also begins to break down precious, calorie-burning muscle tissue for energy, says Dan Benardot, PhD, RD, an associate professor of nutrition and kinesiology at Georgia State University. “Eat just enough so you’re not hungry—a 150-calorie snack midmorning and mid-afternoon between three meals (about 430 calories each) will keep your metabolism humming.”
Enjoy a hearty breakfast every morning
Eating breakfast jump-starts your metabolism and keeps energy high all day. It’s no accident that women who skip this meal are 4 1/2 times as likely to be obese. If nothing else, grab a yogurt. Or try oatmeal made with 2 percent milk and topped with nuts for an essential protein boost.
Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant, so your daily java jolts can rev your metabolism five to eight percent—about 98 to 174 calories a day. A 2012 study from Obesity suggests that high-caffeine intake is associated with weight loss through thermogenesis—the way your body maintains heat—and fat oxidation.
Work more fiber into your diet
Incorporating more fiber-rich foods into your diet such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans and other legumes, will make you feel fuller longer and keep cravings for unhealthy foods at bay. Studies find that women who eat the most fiber in foods gain the least weight over time. Women should aim to get 21 to 25 grams of fiber daily, and men 30 to 38 grams. The vegetables and fruits with the most fiber include raspberries, pears, apples, green peas, broccoli, and turnip greens. Making sure you’re getting a good balance of protein, fiber, and fat every day will keep your hormone levels in check and help prevent you from gaining belly fat.
A 2012 study in Obesity suggests that drinking water can help promote weight loss by lowering calorie intake and altering metabolism. Researchers believe it’s because you’re replacing sweetened, caloric beverages with water. They also believe that drinking water can help promote lipolysis, which is the break down of fats and other lipids.
Rev things up with HIIT
Studies have shown that high-intensity interval training is effective at burning belly fat and boosting your metabolism more than steady-state cardio. Alternating between short bursts of intense effort and periods of lower intensity resets your metabolism at a higher rate, so you burn more calories hours after your workout. This is known as EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption). Try this 10-minute HIIT workout you can do at home.
Start strength training
Strength training can help you build lean muscle mass, which starts to slow down once you hit your 30s. Unlike fat, muscle takes up less space so you’ll drop sizes or feel more comfortable in your favorite pair of jeans before you see a significant drop in pounds.
According to a study in the Journal of Applied Physiology, strength training increases your resting metabolic rate, so you burn calories even when you’re not working out. When it comes to strength training, doing compound exercises is one of the most effective ways to work several muscles at once and save time at the gym. Compound movements like a weighted squat to a shoulder press or a reverse lunge to a bicep curl will work multiple muscle groups, so you get more bang for your buck.
Ramp up your protein intake
Your body needs protein to maintain lean muscle. Add a serving, like three ounces of lean meat, two tablespoons of nuts, or eight ounces of low-fat yogurt, to every meal and snack. Just like fiber, protein keeps you satiated for a long period of time and curbs cravings for refined, processed foods, which tend to be calorie-dense.
Eat iron-rich foods
It’s essential for carrying the oxygen your muscles need to burn fat, says Tammy Lakatos, RD, co-author of Fire Up Your Metabolism. Until menopause, women lose ironeach month through menstruation. Unless you restock your stores, you run the risk of low energy and a sagging metabolism. Shellfish, lean meats, beans, fortified cereals, and spinach are excellent sources. Check out this list of foods with more iron than beef.
Get more vitamin D
This vitamin is essential for preserving metabolism-revving muscle tissue. Unfortunately, researchers estimate that a measly four percent of Americans over age 50 take in enough vitamin D through their diet. Get 90 percent of your recommended daily value (400 IU) in a 3.5-ounce serving of salmon. Other good sources: tuna, shrimp, tofu, fortified milk and cereal, and eggs.
When you have a drink, you burn less fat, and more slowly than usual because the alcohol is used as fuel instead, especially drinks high in sugar. Go for these low-calorie alcoholic drinks at the next happy hour to keep your waistline in check. One of the biggest mistakes people make when drinking alcohol is portion sizes. Be sure to stick to one serving; for beer, it’s 12 ounces, wine is 5 ounces, and liquor is 1.5 ounces. Avoid sugary mixers that add empty calories and sip slowly to fully savor your drink.
Eat more calcium-rich foods
“There’s some evidence that calcium deficiency, which is common in many women, may slow metabolism,” says Lakatos. Research shows that consuming calcium through dairy foods such as fat-free milk and low-fat yogurt may also reduce fat absorption from other foods.
The Top Metabolism-Boosting Foods
Stay active as much as possible
The easiest 350 calories you’ll ever burn: Exercise is obviously important, but regular daily activity known as “NEAT” (nonexercise activity thermogenesis) is equally essential for a healthy metabolism. Small movements such as stretching your legs, taking the stairs, even just standing to talk on the phone increases your energy expenditure and can add up to an extra 350 calories burned a day.