The Basics of Metabolism

Understanding how our metabolism works can be very confusing, but it is an important part of bodily functions and can affect weight. 

What is metabolism?

Metabolism is most easily described as the process where the body converts calories consumed into the energy the body needs to function.

When the body is at rest, it needs energy for basic functioning such as breathing, circulating blood, adjusting hormones, and cellular growth and repair. This is called the basal metabolic rate.

What factors determine one’s basal metabolism?

Body size and muscle mass versus fat mass, sex and age are some of the factors that determine  an individual’s basal metabolism.

Those who have more lean body mass or muscle mass tend to burn more calories, even at rest. Men tend to have more lean body mass than women, which is why men tend to burn more calories. As people age, they start to lose muscle and gain fat, which is why their metabolism may slow over time. 

Basal metabolism tends to stay consistent and is not easily changed. Other factors that affect metabolism include how a person processes food through digestion and absorption and his or her physical activity level.

More energy is needed to break down whole foods with fiber than processed foods, and the more physical activity that is done, the more calories will be burned in a given day.

Aerobic exercise is the most efficient way to burn calories. This includes briskly walking, bicycling and swimming. The recommendation is to exercise at least 150 minutes per week to help regulate weight and maintain good health. 

Strength training at least two times a week will help you maintain and build muscle mass.  This can include weightlifting, resistance training and even using your own body weight.  Remember, muscle burns more calories than fat.

Any extra movement you can do during the day also helps. Park your car farther away, use the stairs instead of the elevator and get up every hour and walk around if you have a sedentary job. 

We can’t always blame weight gain on a slowed metabolism. We control what food we put into our bodies and how much physical activity we do, which is good news. So make sure you are not eating more calories than you need, and get out there and move daily!

Bridgette Bostic, R.D.N., is the community nutrition educator in the Tevis Center for Wellness.

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