So, you made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight (like the rest of us). But what does it take to fit into a smaller pant size?
You make healthy eating choices and work out more each day, and you’ll surely shed some pounds, right? Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple. Your metabolism also plays a key role in your success or failure, so you should be careful not to throw it out of whack.
What is Metabolism?
Believe it or not, even while you’re sitting still, your body needs energy to carry out crucial internal functions, like breathing, blood circulation, and adjusting hormones. Metabolism converts what you eat and drink into energy, and your body uses that to keep going.
It’s the energy you burn above and beyond that metabolic rate, through exercise and cardio, that helps you lose weight.
Several factors outside of your control (like age, sex, and body composition) cause metabolism to vary from person to person. However, there are some basic things you can control. For example, even at rest, those with more muscle mass burn more calories. So, in one way, working out actually can increase your metabolism: More muscle mass from those workouts means more calories burned, even when you’re not at the gym.
Too Much Cardio?
Placing too much of an emphasis on cardio can have adverse effects on your metabolism. Long runs or prolonged elliptical sessions actually eat away at muscle mass, which is needed to increase metabolism. When your body becomes more focused on endurance, your body stores more fat to reserve fuel.
As counter-intuitive as it may seem, cardio burns calories in the moment, but overdoing it keeps you from burning energy while resting. At the same time, an increase in cardio boosts your appetite: So while you’re using less energy at rest, you are also consuming more calories.
Balance is key here. To keep your metabolism from dropping, mix weight training in with cardio exercises. That ensures that you build the muscle mass needed to keep your metabolism high, while reaping the full fat-burning benefits of your cardio workouts.
A Body in Starvation Mode
You may think that cutting back on the calories is the way to combat that cardio-induced metabolism slowdown. However, cutting calories only further slows down your metabolism — meaning you could be gaining weight even if you’re eating less.
Both exercise and the basic metabolic rate are fueled by the energy in food. Decreasing caloric intake causes your body to sense trouble. In order to make up for the lack of carbohydrates (full of energy to burn), our bodies begin to eat away at our muscle tissue.
This starvation mode wreaks havoc on our metabolisms and can cause our bodies to become tired and weak. Your body begins trying to store fat and use energy in muscle tissue to combat lower intake, and reduced muscle mass makes it even harder to boost your metabolism if you normalize your diet.
So What Can You Do?
While you may feel like you’ll see quicker results, big increases in cardio and decreases in caloric intake are not the path to weight loss. This lack of balance really does slow down your metabolism and can damage it in the long run. It becomes even more important as we age: Since getting older comes with reduced muscle mass, your metabolism naturally slows down with time.
Whether you’re 25 or 65, the best way to go about maintaining a strong metabolism is to balance diet and different types of exercise to unlock the many incredible benefits of working out — and to keep your body using energy at all times.
This article was originally published on Philly Voice.