Metabolism and Age: How to Maintain a Healthy Metabolic Rate as You Get Older

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Metabolism is a term we usually mention when we’re talking about nutrition, weight, and body composition. In fact, metabolism plays an important role in homeostasis or the proper functioning of our body.

For our bodily processes to work properly, our body needs calories and other nutrients. That’s why nutrition and metabolic functions go hand in hand. However, our metabolism can be affected by several factors like age, sex, and body composition. In this article, you will learn more about metabolism, how it works, what factors affect it, as well as tips to keep metabolism healthy.

Two Categories

Metabolism is divided into two categories, and before we jump on to the main function of metabolism, first let’s discuss these two categories.

  1. Catabolism - In this category, nutrients such as carbohydrates, protein, glucose, and fats are broken down into smaller forms. This will then provide sources of energy needed for growth, and repair in the body.
  2. Anabolism - After these nutrients are broken down, anabolism takes place. This refers to the utilization of energy for repairing and producing new cells in the body.

What is Metabolism and How it Works

Metabolism refers to the vital process in your body wherein the food that you eat is converted into energy. In the conversion process, carbohydrates, protein, fats, and other nutrients are broken down to become energy sources for various body functions namely:

  • Breathing
  • Digestion
  • Cell production
  • Blood circulation
  • Body temperature regulation
  • Management of hormone levels

Since metabolism and nutrition are linked together, how and what we eat influences how our metabolism works.

Metabolic Rate

We also have what they call the Metabolic Rate, which refers to the number of calories our body uses to maintain proper metabolic functions. Metabolic Rate may vary from person to person and it can be divided into three categories namely:

  • Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) - This refers to the total amount of energy used by your body at rest. Examples of body functions at rest are breathing, blood circulation, hormonal processes, and cell repair and production. Compared to other categories of metabolic rate, BMR uses 50 to 80 percent of energy. This means that BMR covers the largest portion of the total energy used by the body daily.
  • Thermogenesis - Also known as the thermic effect of food. This refers to the process of digesting the food we eat and then absorbing, transporting, and storing the nutrients from these foods. About five to ten percent of energy is used for this metabolic process.
  • Energy used during physical activities - This refers to the energy used during physical activities like exercising, walking, and running. The amount of energy used for this process may differ for each individual and it’s based on how much physical activity one is engaged in daily.
Factors That Affect Metabolic Rate

Many people blame metabolism for their weight problems. Though this is partly true, metabolism functions as it should, however, it can be affected by several factors namely:

  1. Age - As we reach our 30s or 60s, our body begins to decline. This means that various bodily functions weaken including our metabolic rate. That’s the reason why most seniors become more prone to being overweight and losing muscle and bone mass.
  2. Sex - Generally, men have a higher metabolic rate than women. This is because men have denser muscle mass and bigger body build compared to women.
  3. Muscle mass/Body Composition - The higher a person’s muscle density is, the more energy is used by his/her body at rest (BMR). And the lower the muscle density is, the lower energy is used.
  4. Physical activity - As mentioned earlier, the energy that our body uses during physical activity varies depending on how heavy or how frequent the activity is. The more active the person is, the more energy is used by the body, whereas the lesser activity, the lesser energy is used.
  5. Genes - Our genetic code can also influence how fast our metabolic rate is. This is because we tend to inherit the same build our parents have. For example, children who have parents with a small build and low muscle density will most likely have the same build as their parents.
  6. Smoking - Cigarettes have a harmful substance called nicotine, which may make your BMR faster, thus making you lose weight easily. Other substances like caffeine may also increase your metabolic rate.
Health Conditions That Affect Metabolic Rate

Certain health conditions may also affect our metabolic rate:

  • Hyperthyroidism - This condition is characterized by an abnormally fast metabolism which may result in increased weight loss, abnormal heartbeat, and frequent sweating.
  • Hypothyroidism - On the other hand, hypothyroidism refers to the disruption of normal metabolic rate which may result in obesity, joint and bone problems, and infertility.

In some cases, metabolism can also impact your health. Metabolic rate is unique in every individual and it can directly influence one’s weight. This is the reason why people have a hard time losing or gaining weight. The most common metabolic conditions include:

  • Metabolic syndrome - This is characterized by a high-fat build-up in the waist which may indicate obesity. People with Metabolic Syndrome may also be more at risk of the following chronic illnesses:
    • High blood pressure
    • Insulin resistance
    • Low High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) levels
    • High Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) levels
    • Excess weight
  • Gaucher disease - This refers to the abnormal build-up of fats in the liver, bone marrow, and spleen resulting in pain in the bones, anemia, bleeding, and organ enlargement.
  • Tay-Sachs disease - This is characterized by defective genes in babies. Infants with Tay-Sachs syndrome lack a particular enzyme that helps regulate cell function and reproduction. The absence of this enzyme may cause fat build-up in certain areas of the body resulting in muscle weakness and motor skill delays.
  • Wilson disease - This is a condition that is caused by the abnormal build-up of copper in the body. Though copper is an essential element needed by your body, too much of it may cause life-threatening complications.
Tips to Maintain Healthy Metabolism

Now that you know how metabolism works as well as the factors that affect its function, here are some valuable tips to boost your metabolism.

  • Eat enough protein
  • Drink lots of water
  • Stay physically active
  • Drink green tea/coffee
  • Get enough sleep
Final Thoughts

Metabolism plays a vital role in various functions of our body and to maintain a healthy metabolism, one should practice eating foods with high nutritional value. I hope this article helped you gain knowledge and understanding of metabolism, how it works, the factors that affect it, as well as simple but valuable tips you should keep in mind.

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