Whether it’s because we want to look good for beach season, an upcoming vacation, or simply due to a physician’s prudent advice, most of America could stand to lose a few pounds. But as we all know, dropping weight can be difficult – especially as we get a little older. You’ve also probably heard more than one person blame a “slow” metabolism as the primary reason why their clothes never seem to get any looser. It’s a common phrase that gets thrown around a lot, but do you actually know what exactly the human metabolism is, what it does, and how it works?
The Human Metabolism, Explained
For a moment, think of your body as an engine. That engine needs fuel to run, and everything you eat and drink provides the raw ingredients that will eventually become that vital fuel. But just like refining barreled crude oil into premium gasoline, the food you eat must also be processed into a usable form. Simply put, your metabolism is that refining process.
Your body uses energy (in the form of calories) to do everything from breathing to pumping your heart to running a marathon. And, just like a car’s engine, the harder it works the more fuel it burns in a given amount of time. The total energy your particular body requires to fuel its basic, at-rest needs over the course of a day is formally known as your Basal Metabolic Rate. It’s determined by a number of factors including your age, gender, and muscle mass, and accounts for roughly 70% of your daily calorie usage. While there are known medical conditions behind a slower-than-normal human metabolism, they are more rare than you may think.
Digesting food also burns calories, but contrary to popular belief, smaller and more frequent meals won’t speed up your metabolism in a given day. But if do you want to boost your metabolism, physical activity is the best way to go. In addition to burning more calories, exercise and working out can increase your lean muscle mass, which, in turn, actually does increase your metabolism.
When all is said and done, losing weight still (and always) comes down to calories in versus calories out. In other words, you’ve got to create a calorie deficit by burning more calories than you take in over a given day. And while the human metabolism does play a somewhat passive role in that production, the more active (and effective) role is up to you.