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The middle-aged spread and the metabolic rate

October 14th, 2021

Is the middle-aged spread a medical fact or an excuse?

It is normal to gain weight as you age, for the majority of people, their body shape does change during midlife but research has revealed that in most cases it isn’t due to a slowing metabolic rate and that’s a fact. 


It’s a surprising discovery…

After completing an extensive study on the metabolic rate, Prof John Speakman from the University of Aberdeen said, “The most surprising thing for me is there is no change throughout adulthood – if you are experiencing mid-life spread you can no longer blame it on a declining metabolic rate.” The study performed by Prof Speakman and his team showed that, of 6,400 people, from eight days old up to age 95, in 29 countries, suggests the metabolism remains “rock solid” throughout mid-life. It peaks at the age of one, is stable from 20 to 60 and then inexorably declines. Researchers said the findings gave surprising new insights about the body.


The 4 phases we go through in our lifetime…

Metabolism is a chemical process that keeps the body working and there are four phases of metabolic life. 


  1. Infancy – the most metabolically active time, infants burn up to 50% more than adults.
  2. Adolescence – the calorie burn declines at roughly 3% each year.
  3. Adulthood – the metabolic rate settles on a plateau until a person is in their 60s.
  4. Advanced age – there is a further decline especially due to the loss of muscle mass in the body.


The metabolism keeps the body going…

The university study detailed that the metabolism is every drop of chemistry needed to keep the body going, the bigger the body – whether that is ripped muscles or too much belly fat – the more energy it will take to run. Prof Herman Pontzer from Duke University also commented on the topic, “When people talk about metabolism, they think diet and exercise – but it is deeper than that, we are actually watching your body, your cells, at work. They are incredibly busy at one year old and when we see declines with age, we are seeing your cells stopping working.”

Another professor, Tom Sanders, from King’s College London, said, “Interestingly, they found very little differences in total energy expenditure between early adult life and middle age – a time when most adults in developed countries put on weight.

“These findings would support the view that the obesity epidemic is fuelled by excess food energy intake and not a decline in energy expenditure.”

Dr Soren Brage, from the University of Cambridge, said the total amount of energy used had been “notoriously difficult to measure”.

“We urgently need to turn our attention not only to the global energy crisis defined by the burning of fossil fuels but also the energy crisis that is caused by not burning enough calories in our own bodies.”


Medication and a shift in metabolism

Medication can play a part in a change of metabolism. The study looked at whether cancers spread differently as there is a change with the use of drugs at different phases. There is even discussion about whether drugs that modify the metabolism could slow diseases of old age.

Drs Rozalyn Anderson and Timothy Rhoads, from the University of Wisconsin, said the “unprecedented” study had already led to “important new insights into human metabolism. And it “cannot be a coincidence” diseases of old age kicked in as the metabolism fell.


Are you carrying a few extra pounds through your mid-life years? Are you ready to kickstart your metabolism?


Here are top tips from the experts to help you boost your metabolism through your middle-age and beyond!


  1. Eat enough food to fuel your body.


If you aren’t eating enough calories it can result in loss of muscle mass. Why? The body slows the metabolic rate down to conserve the fuel that it already has. Laura Acosta a registered dietician from the University of Florida explains how the ideal calorie intake per day varies from person to person. 





  1. Eat and drink things that stimulate your metabolism, including:


Proteinresearch has found that because protein is more difficult for the body to break down and digest than other nutrients, it can increase post-meal calorie burn by 5%. Calculate how much protein you need a day.



Full-fat foods – a new report from the Credit Suisse Research Institute found that more and more of us are choosing whole-fat foods over skim, light, fat-free or other alternatives. The research team studied the complex topic of fat as a nutrient.


Whole grains – the body has to work harder to break down whole grains. Whole grain foods increase your post-meal energy expenditure by 50% compared to processed foods according to research published in the American Journal of Nutrition.



Beans – a study found that people who ate three-quarters of a cup of beans daily weighed 6.6 pounds less than those who didn’t. They are a great source of plant-based protein, packed with soluble and insoluble fibre. The process of digesting beans burns extra calories.




Almonds – a low-calorie diet that’s rich in almonds could help people lose weight. The monounsaturated fats in almonds have an effect on insulin levels and give dieters a feeling of fullness. The International Journal of Obesity published an article explaining how an almond rich diet can help you lose weight. 




High-fibre foods – studies show that eating fibre can decrease your risk of belly fat by 3.7%. Aim for about 28 grams of fibre a day, not sure what to eat? Find out more about high fibre foods.


Whole foods – smoothies have become a revolution but when it comes to stimulating your metabolism, drinking a smoothie isn’t as effective as consuming whole foods. A big part of your body’s job is to break down food so the body can absorb the nutrients. Eat whole foods and enjoy a smoothie, here are 12 smoothies ideas that will help to beat belly bloat! 




Salmon – is one of the best fish you can eat when you want to increase your metabolism. Salmon boasts significant anti-inflammatory properties thanks to its rich omega-3 fatty acid content. A study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at the effects of weight loss and seafood consumption.  




Yoghurts – probiotics in products like yoghurt and fermented foods help good bacteria in the gut process food more efficiently. Yoghurt is a great source of protein and calcium, a Nature Study found that eating it as part of a reduced-calorie diet can help shrink your waistline. 


Avocadoavocado contains metabolism-enhancing monounsaturated fat, it is also packed with fibre and free-radical-killing antioxidants. The green fruit has a ton of benefits, here are 8 reasons why avocado is a perfect weight-loss food.


Broccoli – the green vegetable contains calcium, vitamin C and fibre all proven to boost metabolism. Broccoli contains a compound that works on a genetic level to effectively “switch off” cancer genes, leading to the targeted death of cancer cells and slowing disease progression. 


Mustard – wow! Scientists at England’s Oxford Polytechnic Institute found that eating just one teaspoon of mustard (about 5 calories) can boost the metabolism by up to 25% for several hours after eating. 


Egg yolk – the yolk contains many metabolism-stoking nutrients, including fat-soluble vitamins, essential fatty acids and most significantly, choline, a powerful compound that animal research shows can prevent the storage of fat around your liver. 


Garlicstudies have shown that garlic supports blood-sugar metabolism and helps control lipid levels in the blood. Adding garlic to foods that are rich in fats and carbohydrates may keep those substances from doing the damage they’re known to do. 


Dark chocolate –  scientists speculate that chemicals in cocoa, such as flavonoids, play a role in regulating metabolism by alleviating stress that can cause your fat-burning engines to go on strike.


Cheese – cheese is packed with calcium, vitamin D, and protein. “Calcium can also promote weight loss because it helps maintain muscle mass, which boosts and helps maintain metabolism, helping you burn calories more efficiently throughout the day,” says Tanya Zuckerbrot, RD, author of The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories & Fat Disappear.


Spicy peppers – such as cayenne or chilli can rev up the metabolism. During a recent study, participants who ate the most DCT experienced a metabolic boost that was nearly double the placebo group! So you need to start spicing things up!


Vinegar – vinegar is shown to “switch on” genes that release proteins that break down fat. In a study of 175 overweight Japanese men and women published in Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry, researchers found that participants who drank one or two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar daily for 12 weeks significantly lowered their body weight, BMI, visceral fat, and waist circumference.


Apples – eating an apple each day can help prevent metabolic syndrome. Apples are a low-calorie, nutrient-dense source of fibre which studies have proven to be integral to reducing visceral fat. 



  1. Eat 3 meals a day.


A study in the journal Hepatology put two groups of men on a weight-gain diet. One group split the calories among three small meals with snacks in between and the other group ate the same number of calories in three meals. While both groups gained weight, researchers found that belly fat, the dangerous kind of fat that increases heart-disease risk only increased in the high-meal frequency group.




  1. Opt for organic foods.


“Hormones dictate how our body uses the energy we give it,” says nutritionist Lisa Jubilee. “Between our reproductive, thyroid and growth hormones, appetite, insulin, and hunger hormone leptin and ghrelin, our bodies have to perform a tricky balancing act to keep us lean, energized and viable reproductive beings.” Those tasks have become much more difficult because of the hormone residues we consume via cage-raised foods. 


  1. Get enough vitamin D. 


Vitamin D is essential for preserving metabolism-boosting muscle tissue, specialists say most of us don’t get enough. Salmon, tuna and eggs are great sources of Vitamin D. From late March/April to the end of September the majority of people should be able to make the vitamin D they need from sunlight on their skin. Are you getting enough vitamin D?


  1. Drink more water.


Water increases the rate at which people burn calories. Researchers estimate that increasing water intake by 1.5 litres a day would burn an extra 17,400 calories over the course of the year creating a weight loss of approximately five pounds. 




  1. Cut back on the alcohol.


While drinking in moderation every so often won’t do too much harm to your waistline, making it a habit can slow down your metabolic rate. Why? When your body has a cocktail to break down, for example, it takes precedence over any food that you’ve already eaten that’s waiting to be digested. This slows down the entire metabolic process, however, the good news is, there are benefits to drinking a small amount of wine.


  1. Coffee is good for weight loss.

Coffee is one of the best drinks for weight loss because it boosts your metabolism. A study published in the journal Food Science and Biotechnology found that caffeine revs the sympathetic nervous system and increases lipolysis. A cup of black coffee is a good pre-workout beverage.


  1. Put muscle on!

Studies have shown that resting metabolic rate and total calories burned is much higher in people with more muscle because every pound of muscle uses about 6 calories a day just to sustain itself. 




  1.  Do HIT workouts (High-Intensity Training).

Experts say that when it comes to the best workouts for weight loss, interval training is the best. It’s the most efficient way to increase a metabolic rate and lose weight for many reasons including insulin sensitivity. A recent study to determine the effects of HIT workouts revealed some interesting facts. 


  1. Make sure you stand up.

A lot of sleep around 7 hours and spend another seven to ten hours sitting at their desk being sedentary. Our bodies weren’t designed for this level of inactivity—most of the human’s evolutionary history involved being active, searching for food and fuel. Nutritionist Lisa Jubilee says that one way to burn more calories daily is to stand more and sit less. 


  1. Reduce stress levels.


Stress can slow down the metabolic rate and when people are stressed they tend to reach out for comfort food high in fat and sugar. The result can make a person gain weight which can add to stress levels. Creating a stress management strategy and caring for your mental health can really help. 




  1. Get a good night sleep.


Seth Santoro, a nutritionist and holistic health coach involved in a study in Finland said “Just getting an extra half hour of sleep will make all the difference. If you’re chronically sleep deprived you are more likely to gain weight because a lack of sleep can cause several metabolic problems. It can cause you to burn fewer calories, lack appetite control and experience an increase in cortisol levels, which stores fat.” Sleep-deprived society.




  1. Laugh more!

We’re not joking around, laughter may cause a 10-20% increase in basal energy expenditure and resting heart rate, according to a study published in the International Journal of Obesity. That means a 10-15 minute laughing session could burn up 40 to 170 calories. 


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When you wake up tomorrow morning start your day with a glass of water, it’s a great way to kick start your metabolism.


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