Increase Metabolism

How to increase your metabolism is a common question and concern, especially among people who have difficulty losing weight.

Why increase metabolism ?

Briefly, the word metabolism refers to the chemical changes due to all of the chemical reactions that take place in the body. Chemical changes are continually occurring within the body because all its responses, including movements e.g. in sport, as well as all the body's other processes are fuelled by chemical changes (reactions) taking place within tissues and organs. Such changes require and use energy. Metabolic rate is concerned with how quickly the body uses energy, i.e. how much energy per time. There are several components of metabolic rate, including the rate of use of energy when the body is at rest (Basal Metabolic Rate, or BMR) and the rate of use of energy for activities e.g. lifting a pen or cup, walking across a room, or playing an energetic game of squash or rugby. Foods have an "energy value", usually measured and stated on packaging in Calories (kcal) and kilo Joules (kJ). A simple way to understand many diets and weight loss regimes is to consider the amount of energy consumed in ingested food and drinks per day and also the amount of energy expended per day. The amount of energy expended per day is related to the person's metabolic rate over the whole day so it takes into account the contributions of any times when the person's metabolic rate was higher e.g. during a period of exercise such as in the gym, as well as times when the person's metabolic rate was lower e.g. while seated in a school or office and while asleep overnight. The basis of "calorie-controlled diets" is that the person should consume fewer calories per day than he or she uses. The additional energy used by the person (but not supplied by the food he/she ate) is then expected to be supplied by his/her body converting stored fat into energy. If this occurs for a sufficient period of time the result is expected to be weight loss due to loss of the fat that has been turned into energy used by the person's body to perform daily tasks and essential maintenance of the body's tissues, organs, etc.. Some people have difficulty reducing their food intake and/or would also like to increase their metabolism in order to lose weight more effectively or just to maintain a comfortable healthy body mass.

How to Increase Metabolism

There are two main ways to increase metabolism.
They are:

  1. Increase your level of appropriate healthy exercise
  2. Review and adapt your eating habits to follow a balanced diet (that may include some metabolism boosting foods).

Simple considerations re. how to increase metabolism naturally follow below:

Ways to increase metabolism


Increase Physical Activity

  • An important benefit of exercise is that it can increase lean muscle tissue. Muscle tissue is metabolically active and uses energy even at rest, as opposed to adipose tissue (i.e. fat), which does not use energy at rest. There are many ways to increase muscle tone by exercise, e.g. indoors at a gym or swimming pool, or outdoors walking, running, cycling, horse riding or similar. See also the effects of exercise on muscles.
  • Take short bursts of exercise several times during the day. For example, use stairs rather than lifts, walk or cycle when possible, or just walk about the garden or go up and down stairs several times if spending an otherwise sedentary day at home.
  • Find ways to move around a bit more - even on the spot, e.g. at a desk: Stretch, fidget, shrug shoulders, briefly contract then relax groups of muscles (though no more than is comfortable), or whatever is possible and appropriate in your situation, at intervals throughout the day e.g. between sedentary tasks such as phone calls.
  • Where safe considering the age and physical condition of the person, weight-training is often recommended as a long-term way to increase metabolism because regular weight training increases lean muscle mass and, as stated above, muscle tissue uses energy even when at rest.


Review and improve eating habits

  • Eating a healthy balanced diet is recommended for many reasons. One way to help increase metabolism is to include some metabolism boosting foods as part of a healthy balanced diet.
  • Drinking enough water is a good idea. Many people do not drink the recommended amount of water. Drinking enough water can help to increase your metabolism. Drinking cold or "iced" water can help to increase your metabolism even more because when you drink ice-cold water, your body also uses energy to warm it up to body temperature.
  • Use of stimulants such as drinking coffee are said to help increase metabolic rate - but do bear in mind that excessive consumption of caffeine isn't recommended for various other reasons.
  • Don't drink too much alcohol. The human body can't store alcohol so must metabolize it immediately. When alcohol is broken down (in the liver) it can affect the body's transport mechanisms for fats - leading to more fats in the blood stream, and so ultimately laid down as fat around the body. As stated above, fat tissues do not use energy when the body is at rest, but muscle tissue does.
  • Eating breakfast, i.e. a meal early in the day (not necessarily a "Full English" or an American-style tower of pancakes!) rather than eating most of a daily dietary intake later in the day can help to increase metabolism.
  • Eating small/modest amounts of food several times per day instead of eating the same amount in one large meal helps to increase metabolism because of the effect of insulin, a hormone involved in metabolism. (Insulin is released when blood glucose levels increase, signalling to cells when energy can be stored - as fat - rather than released and used in the body's many chemical reactions, i.e. metabolism.)
  • Ensure that your diet includes enough dietary fibre, also known as "roughage".


Other ways to increase metabolism

The market in "weight-loss" and associated systems, supplements, books and other products is huge. Beware of product claims that seem "too good to be true". It is widely accepted that increasing physical activity and following a sensible diet that includes frequent small snacks rather than one large meal at the end of the day, are the main ways to increase metabolism. However, other factors and suggestions are often mentioned. Some of the most commonly cited "other ways" to increase metabolism follow for completeness.

  • Adjust ambient temperature: If you can bear to turn down your central heating thermostat, even by just a few degrees, not only will you be helping the environment by using less energy but your body may takeover by using more of its energy to keep you warm enough. However, do first consider any other people who are using the same space - reducing ambient temperature is not appropriate for everyone.
  • Hormones: The thyroid gland controls the body's metabolism via the hormones triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) which it produces. A small proportion of people have either more or less "active" thyroids than usual for their gender, age, and level of activity. If this is found to be the reason for an unusually low metabolic rate, medical help may be available:
    • "Overactive Thyroid" => use of proportionally more calories, so tendency to be thin, nervous and active.
    • "Underactive Thyroid" => slower use of energy, resulting in lethargy and possibly weight gain and/or difficulty in losing weight.
  • Saunas are sometimes suggested as a means of increasing metabolic rate. They are not suitable for everyone. Even if safe and enjoyable, saunas are less effective for increasing metabolic rate than exercise and dietary considerations. However, they can be a nice "extra" when other steps are also being taken e.g. after a session of weight-training in the gym.
  • Supplements claiming to increase metabolic rate are sold online and in some health food shops. Some people use these in combination with appropriate diet and exercise regimes. It is likely that some supplements are better, and some more appropriate to any particular person, than others - some fitness trainers may be able to advise.

... but you probably can't do much about ...

  • Gender affects metabolism, males tending to have a higher metabolic rate than females of the same age (useful to know but, unfortunately, does not lead to any useful tips on how to increase your metabolism).
  • Genetics, i.e. genes inherited through families, has an effect on BMR and so also on overall metabolic rate. For example genes can affect efficiency of absorption of food. (This is also useful to be aware of but does not lead to tips about how to increase your metabolism).

See also metabolism boosting foods, what is metabolism?, metabolic rate, BMR, carbohydrates & dietary fibre.

What is a Balanced Diet ?

In the News:

Study shows extent of variations in physical inactivity across England - 1 Aug '13

Sports participation after knee reconstruction surgery - 23 Mar '12

Long warm-ups tire sports players - 9 Jan '12

Sportsmen and alcohol-related violence - 21 Dec '11

Do protein-based sport drinks benefit athletes' performance ? - 4 Jul '11

Active play is important for children's physical activity - 21 Jul '10

Parents' physical inactivity influences children - 25 May '10

Nursing profession focuses on health and wellbeing - 12 Apr '09

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This is not medical, First Aid or other advice and is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment. Consult an expert in person. Care has been taken when compiling this page but accuracy cannot be guaranteed. This material is copyright.

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