Extra years often bring extra pounds, but it doesn't have to be that way. Learn how to turn up the burn.
A good friend in her late 30s was recently telling me about her struggle to lose the five pounds she'd put on last winter. It wasn't unusual for her to gain a little weight during the holidays, she said, but in years past, it would melt off by spring. This year was different. She was exercising and watching her diet, but still the scale wouldn't budge.
I've heard this story from many women, and they all want to know why the slim-down strategies they've used in the past (like reducing calories and avoiding junk food) no longer work. The frustratingly simple explanation is that weight loss gets harder as we get older, in part because our metabolism slows with age. Research shows that in women, metabolism declines by an average of 2 percent per decade, starting at age 20. But here's the good news: There are simple ways you can tweak your daily routine to counterbalance this natural dip.
Metabolism describes the complex processes that regulate how we convert food into energy. I tell my patients to picture it as a flame fueled by calories. Cutting too many calories from your diet will cause the flame to die down (which explains why extreme dieting doesn't work over the long term). However, certain activities, supplements, foods, and beverages can stoke the flame; the faster it burns, the more calories you use, and the more fat you lose over time.
This plan is designed to fire up your metabolism around the clock. Some of the tips are challenging (lunges and planks) and some you'll actually love (evening glass of wine). Try to follow as many of them as you can every day to help your body find its healthy weight.
6:30 A.M. Do a little yoga. It can double your metabolic rate first thing in the morning. I recommend a gentle cycle of two sun salutations. If you're new to yoga, check out my seven-minute morning routine (which also includes a few strength-building exercises). 6:40 A.M. Drink cold water. Five hundred milliliters of H2O (a little more than a pint) may spike metabolism by 30 percent for as long as an hour. Water triggers the sympathetic nervous system, which in turn stimulates your metabolism. On top of that, cold water may force your body to use energy to warm it. 6:50 A.M. Take 500 milligrams of white bean extract. In a 2007 study, people who took the extract (which may slow the absorption of carbs) for 30 days experienced a significant improvement in their muscle-to-fat ratio. That's good news for metabolism since muscle burns about three times more calories than fat.
7:00 A.M. Eat a protein-packed breakfast. Digesting protein takes up to seven times more energy than digesting carbohydrates or fat. Try making a dozen hard-boiled eggs on Sunday, and eat one or two each day. 8:00 A.M. Enjoy a cup of joe. Caffeine promotes an increase in norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that keeps your sympathetic nervous system activated and your metabolic rate humming. According to research, coffee may increase the amount of energy you burn by 16 percent for up to two hours. 9:30 A.M. Take 50 milligrams of forskolin. Recent studies indicate that compounds in forskolin -- an extract derived from a medicinal plant -- might break down fat and help raise levels of thyroid hormones, which play an important role in regulating the speed of metabolism.
10:00 A.M. Snack on tahini dip. Tahini is made from sesame seeds, a rich source of zinc. And zinc may increase the production of leptin, a hormone that improves metabolism and curbs appetite. 11:15 A.M. Chew a stick of sugarless gum. A New England Journal of Medicine study found that this mindless activity can help your body burn 19 percent more calories per hour. (At that rate, if you chewed gum every waking hour, you'd lose 11 pounds over the course of a year! And likely drive everyone around you nuts.) 12:00 P.M. Go for a brisk 15-minute walk. A trip around the block can triple your metabolic rate. This boost continues after you stop moving because the body consumes more oxygen, a crucial player in metabolism, when it's recovering from exertion.
12:45 P.M. Spice up lunch with peppers. Capsaicin, the key substance that makes chili peppers hot, stimulates your "fight or flight" stress response and may increase metabolism by 23 percent. Peppers may even improve your muscle-to-fat ratio: Research suggests that capsaicin inhibits the generation of fat cells. 2:00 P.M. Sip a cup of green tea. This miracle beverage pairs caffeine with a compound known as EGCG -- and together they create an even greater bump in metabolism than caffeine alone. Studies also indicate that green tea may reduce body fat and trim the waistline. 5:00 P.M. Use your muscles -- with your mind. Believe it or not, visualizing a workout can actually trick your body into strengthening your calorie-zapping muscle: A Cleveland Clinic study discovered that participants who spent 15 minutes a day imagining flexing their biceps had a 13.5 percent increase in their strength after three months.
5:15 P.M. Use your muscles -- with your muscles. After age 30, we lose 3 to 8 percent of our muscle mass per decade, which is one of the main reasons metabolism slows. To counteract that loss, aim to do two to three 30-minute strength-training sessions a week, using moves that engage as many muscles as possible, like squats, planks, and lunges. 6:30 P.M. Cook dinner with coconut oil. Most of the oils we eat are converted largely into fat. But coconut oil, with its unique molecular makeup, is rapidly converted into energy -- and may cause a 12 percent bump in your metabolism. 6:55 P.M. Add dairy to your meal. Calcium can help improve your muscle-to-fat ratio in two ways: It binds with fat to reduce the body's absorption of fat. And any remaining calcium typically circulates in your bloodstream, helping to break down fat cells.
7:00 P.M. Garnish with dill weed or chives. Both of these herbs are packed with kaempferol, a flavonoid that has been shown to increase the production of metabolism-spurring thyroid hormones by about 150 percent. 7:45 P.M. Unwind with a glass of wine. Alcohol can raise your metabolic rate for up to 95 minutes. In fact, a large peer-reviewed study found that women who regularly enjoy a drink are seven to eight pounds lighter, on average, than teetotalers. 10:30 P.M. Hit the hay. Irregular sleep patterns can disrupt the circadian rhythm of your cells, throwing your metabolism out of whack. Do your best to get a steady eight hours of rest each night.
As a reminder, always consult your doctor for medical advice and treatment before starting any program.