"Metabolism" is the name of the bodily system that converts food calories to energy needed to perform various tasks, like pumping oxygen to muscles during a long walk. Many variables contribute to your metabolism, including heredity, gender and age. But you can quicken yours; here's how.
- Exercise more. When you walk, run, or lift weights, you increase the energy required of your body, which raises your metabolism then, and for hours afterward. "It's not a huge spike, but it definitely makes a difference," says Gary Miller, PhD, associate professor of health and exercise science at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
- Work out with weights. During weight training, muscle tissue is stressed; afterward, it's repaired -- which raises metabolism. A woman who strength trains three times a week for six months can build enough muscle to burn 100 to 320 extra calories a day, according to Robert Wolfe, PhD, professor of geriatrics at the University of Arkansas.
- Practice portion control. This helps ensure you don't overload your metabolism with a surplus of unusable energy (that is, food). Use a food scale or measuring cups to identify proper portions. Or use your hand as a guide. A fist equals a serving of fruit, a cupped hand equals a serving of cereal or grains, two cupped handfuls equal a serving of leafy green vegetables and an open palm equals a serving of meat.
- Eat smaller meals more often. Some experts recommend eating smaller meals throughout the day, known as grazing. "Grazing helps normalize blood sugar levels rather than producing three large spikes, which is what happens eating three meals a day," says Nick Flynn, PhD, associate professor of biochemistry at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas.
- Be Happy. When researchers from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, put people into a "metabolic chamber" (a small room that measures heat output in order to calculate a person's metabolic rate) and showed them funny videos, the subjects' metabolic rates rose by 10 to 40 calories. It's a small increase, but every calorie counts for those seeking weight loss, says lead researcher Maciej Buchowksi, PhD. It's also a lot more fun that doing lunges.