If you feel like you've been overindulging on booze and sweets lately, or snacking mindlessly while staying up late, you're probably ready to slim down and tone up. Or perhaps you've been finding it difficult to stay motivated and active. These combinations often slow down your metabolism and make you feel sluggish and soft. What exactly is your metabolism? Simply put, metabolism refers to the chemical processes by which your cells produce the substances and energy needed to sustain life—and the higher it revs, the more energy (and thus fat and calories) your body burns. Naturally, it tends to slow as you age. You can also be passed down a less efficient metabolism from a parent. But you can actually trick your body into burning calories more efficiently. Here are a few sure-fire ways to not only fire up your metabolism, but keep in the red all day long so you can look and feel your best.
Cooler temperatures can increase your percentage of brown fat—the healthy type of fat that acts more like muscle, helping your body burn the other kind of fat and increasing your metabolic rate—according to a 2014 study conducted by the National Institutes of Health. Two surefire ways to get a beneficial dose of chill? Sleeping in a cool room (around 66-degrees Fahrenheit) and embracing cold showers in the morning.
“The stress response activates the hormone cortisol,“ says Francesco Celi, M.D., chair of the Endocrinology and Metabolism Department at Virginia Commonwealth University. “And that's been clearly associated with a worsening of metabolism and, in the long-run, increasing the risk for obesity.” One recent study found that participants who were stressed out over a 24-hour span burned, on average, 104 fewer calories after a meal. The researchers point out that this deficit could translate to an 11-pound weight gain over the course of a year.
(and Build Muscle)
Long, sedentary periods at your desk or watching TV essentially put your muscles and metabolism to sleep. But scientists and personal trainers agree that taking brief breaks for light activity (i.e. a 10-minute walk or a few jumping jacks) can meaningfully speed up the rate the body burns glucose, lowering blood sugar levels. But the kind of exercise that works best to activate brown fat and rev metabolism is strength training. “By increasing muscle mass, we can increase our resting energy expenditure, which is what's going to help you burn calories all day long,” Celi says.
Get some protein into your body early in the day. Protein and fiber-rich foods (whether eaten at breakfast or at other times) require a good amount of energy to break down and digest, which gets your body and metabolism firing. Spicy dishes, especially those with capsaicin-loaded chilies, have been proven to increase satiety briefly and raise metabolic rate by an average of 8 percent. And foods rich in Omega-3s (i.e. fish, walnuts, flaxseeds and eggs) help to balance blood sugar and reduce inflammation—which, in turn, helps regulate metabolism.
Splurge at LeastOnce a Week
If you tend to eat clean, then enjoy the benefits of a “cheat day” or a “reward meal.” The temporary break from a healthy diet confuses the body and naturally revs up your calorie burners. Plus, research published in the International Journal of Obesity found that splurging on carbohydrates actually increases the hormones that boost your metabolism and muscle growth, while preventing the body from getting used to a more restrictive diet.
(and Drink Your Tea)
Hydration is a major player when it comes to digestion. Without enough water, you can't efficiently and completely extract all the nutrients from the food you take in and flush out the bad stuff. Increasing your water intake will help your metabolism run smoothly. And new evidence shows that drinking green tea may crank up your body's fat-burning process thanks to an active ingredient called catechin. Researchers conducted a series of studies in dieters and found that green tea drinkers lost more weight than those who didn't, suggesting that catechins may improve fat oxidation and thermogenesis, your body's production of energy from digestion. In fact, five eight-ounce cups of green tea a day was shown to increase your energy expenditure by 90 calories a day.
Eating late at night does not slow down your metabolism. It’s the extra calories, not when you eat them, that cause weight gain. But you may be more likely to snack mindlessly later in the evenings.