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How to Rev Up Metabolism to Lose Weight

Revving Up Your Metabolism with Exercise


Updated August 15, 2007

"I can't lose weight, I've got a slow metabolism."

How many times have you heard or read that? It's a common perception that excess weight is due to an inherited slow metabolism or a thyroid problem. Yes, these conditions do exist, but they're not as common as you might think. Most obesity and overweight conditions occur because people eat too much and move too little -- simple as that.

That's not to say that you can't rev the metabolism up a little in your activity program. You can. But the main game is still big-picture recommendations like eating less and exercising more. Even so, every little bit helps.

The three main activities that will make your body more efficient as a fat-burning machine involve physical activity and body composition.

1.High-Intensity Exercise

When you exercise in the range where your heart rate reaches beyond 75% of its maximum, you are more likely to create an "afterburn" where your metabolism is enhanced after you stop exercising (and during of course). This applies whether you do weight training, high-intensity intervals of running or cycling, or aerobic exercise. The longer you train at this high rate, the more calories you will burn during the session and after the session.

Unfortunately, exercising at this high intensity is not easy to do consistently, and it requires what may feel like a long period of exercise -- especially if you are a little overweight and not used to exercise. You'll know when you are reaching this intensity when you can't talk easily during exercise. Read more about fat burning and high-intensity exercise.

2. Fidgeting and Incidental Movement

Strange as it may seem, fidgeting or incidental movement in day-to-day activities seems to be key to burning more energy and giving you a more efficient metabolism. It's no surprise that many worriers, twitchers and pacers tend to be thin. This is called NEAT, or "non-exercise activity thermogenesis" -- thermogenesis is the term for energy burning. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) is the energy required for everything you do that is not sleeping, eating or organized exercise.

Metabolism's Sliding Scale. When your metabolism is running "normally" it seems that NEAT increases when you overeat and decreases when you undereat. This process has evolved over the history of human evolution to maintain body balance. Think of it in similar terms to how very-low-calorie diets are known to slow your metabolism down. NEAT works in the same way: the more you move, the more the body assumes you have excess energy to work off. The less you move, the more the body assumes you don't, and so it slows down. The problem arises when you, or something in your physical or social environment, over-rides that normal process. When you overeat and don't move more in tune with biological rhythms, that's when you may start to get fat.

You can promote this NEAT process by never missing an opportunity to move when you have an option. Walk to the store, get off the couch often, do some gardening, walk the dog. . .you get the picture. Do small things often, that's the key. One person I know keeps a set of dumbbells in the TV room and pumps a few reps during TV ad breaks instead of couch surfing the channels. Just a few repetitions each time. It all adds up. Fantastic idea. The difference between those who have a high NEAT energy use and those who do not is about 350 calories each day, according to one study -- probably enough to account for being overweight. And the same study showed that obese individuals tend to sit for 2.5 hours more per day than sedentary, lean people.

3. Muscle Building

Muscle has a higher energy requirement than fat, so the more muscle and less fat your body is composed of, the higher your metabolism will be. This is useful, but the differences are not as dramatic as some fitness enthusiasts contend. However, including weight training in your fitness routine is a must for many reasons. The exercise required to build that extra muscle, at the expense of fat, is an important process in weight management.

Summing Up Metabolism Boosters

Revving up the metabolism is clearly about moving more. High-intensity exercise will do it, but not everyone is able to exercise at that intensity. Building more muscle is also a longer-term goal. Moving more throughout our waking hours is something all of us can achieve and it can start right now. Let's get moving!


LaForgia J, Withers RT, Gore CJ. Effects of exercise intensity and duration on the excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. J Sports Sci. 2006 Dec;24(12):1247-64. Review.

Levine JA, Kotz CM. NEAT--non-exercise activity thermogenesis--egocentric & geocentric environmental factors vs. biological regulation. Acta Physiol Scand. 2005 Aug;184(4):309-18. Review.

Levine JA, Lanningham-Foster LM, McCrady SK, Krizan AC, Olson LR, Kane PH, Jensen MD, Clark MM. Interindividual variation in posture allocation: possible role in human obesity. Science. 2005 Jan 28;307(5709):584-6.

The Myth about Muscle and Your Metabolic Rate

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