We probably all have that one friend who can eat anything they want without gaining weight, and who shrugs it off by saying they just have a fast metabolism. Most of us, however, will see a habit of indulging in fast food or rich desserts reflected on the scale over time. And as we age, it’s even harder to shed those extra pounds. That’s partly because we burn fewer calories when we get older, making it more difficult to lose weight, according to the Mayo Clinic.
But what if you could change that by doing something simple for just 10 minutes, twice a week? One doctor, who specializes in obesity and metabolism, says it’s possible. Read on to find out what activity she recommends people add to their weekly routine, and how it can impact your metabolic rate and your ability to maintain a healthy weight as you age.
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Even when you’re at rest, your body needs energy to live—and it gets that energy from the calories you consume. “Metabolism is the process by which the body changes food and drink into energy,” says the Mayo Clinic. They explain that the calories you take in mix with oxygen to make the energy that allows you to breathe, your heart to beat, and your body to regulate hormones and repair itself.
Your body size and composition, sex, and age all impact your metabolic rate, or the speed at which you burn calories. Larger people, men, and young people tend to have faster metabolisms.
“Our metabolic rate is determined by our lean muscle, which we naturally lose as we get older, but our appetites don’t change too much, so we become set up for weight gain,” explains Rekha Kumar, MD, MS, Head of Medical Affairs at weight care program Found.
The former medical director of the American Board of Obesity Medicine, Kumar has lectured internationally on the topic of the medical assessment and treatment of obesity, and she has a quick and simple tip for those who are struggling to reach a healthy weight.
“Maintaining and gaining lean muscle is a great way to lose weight, maintain weight loss, and avoid weight gain over time, so it’s important to build muscle over your lifetime, even if you just have a few minutes,” Kumar says.
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If you’re intimidated by the idea of building muscle, don’t be. Kumar says it’s not necessary to join a gym or change up your whole routine in order to strengthen your body and speed up your metabolism.
“A few squats or reps with weights on a regular basis—even as little as twice per week for 10 minutes—will increase your metabolism and allow for healthy weight … going forward,” she says. “I even keep a set of weights in my office to fit in quick workouts. If you are pressed for time, you will get a lot of benefit from working big muscle groups like quads, glutes, core versus isolating small muscles like triceps or small shoulder muscles, because when we exhaust large muscle groups, we will get more overall metabolic benefit.”
The older we get, the harder it is to build muscle, exercise researcher Roger Fielding, PhD, told The Washington Post. “Older people do not gain muscle mass as well as young people,” he explained. “But this reality should not discourage older people from exercising,” he continued. “If anything, it should encourage you to exercise more as you age. While younger people may get stronger and build bigger muscles much faster than their older counterparts, older people still get incredibly valuable health benefits from exercise, including improved strength, physical function, and reduced disability.”
Kumar concurs, and recommends some specific exercises to help boost metabolism. “Continue to build muscle over your lifetime, even if you just have a few minutes,” she says. “Exercises like banded squats to add resistance, holding a plank pose, or squats with an added kettlebell are a good choice.”
If you’re new to working out, and especially to muscle-building exercises, check in with your healthcare provider about finding a routine that will be safe and sustainable for you over time.