Wouldn’t it be nice if you could eat whatever you wanted, blow off working out and still fit in your skinny jeans?
While that’s unlikely, it is possible to speed up your metabolism, that little engine in your body that burns calories. As you age, your metabolism slows down, chiefly because you lose around a half pound of muscle each year. “If you don’t use the muscle, it atrophies,” explains Pamela Peeke, M.D., professor of medicine at the University of Maryland and author of Fight Fat After Forty.
That translates into burning about 400 fewer calories each day, which could mean gaining a pound a week. But there’s plenty you can do to rev your fat-burning furnace back up again, says Peeke. Here’s the skinny:
1. Stock up on green tea
Green tea isn’t known only for its cancer-fighting benefits: It may help boost your metabolism, too. People who took green-tea extract three times a day saw their metabolic rate increase by about 4 percent, according to a study published in the December 1999 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. (Translation: You could burn an extra 60 calories a day, which equals about six pounds a year!) It may be because green tea contains catechins, which increase levels of the metabolism-speeding brain chemical norepinephrine, says Joy Bauer, a New York City nutritionist and author of Cooking with Joy.
2. Pump iron
Weight training is the ultimate way to burn calories fast. “A pound of muscle burns up to nine times the calories of a pound of fat,” explains Richard Cotton, M.A., chief exercise physiologist for myexerciseplan.com. Weight training increases your resting metabolic rate, which is the number of calories you burn while sitting on your butt. What’s more, it gives your metabolism an added boost after you exercise: It remains in overdrive for up to two hours after the last bench press, according to a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Strapped for time? Try these quick moves: squats, bench step-ups, lunges, push-ups, pull-ups and crunches. In a pinch, just do single sets of 10 for each exercise — you’ll get optimal results for the time invested.
3. Eat iron
Yeah, we just told you to pump iron, but you also need to eat it. “If you don’t have enough of this mineral, your body can’t get enough oxygen to your cells, which slows down your metabolism,” explains Samantha Heller, R.D., a nutritionist at the New York University Medical Center. Most multivitamins contain around 18 mg (the RDA for adults); you can also get your fill by eating three to four daily servings of foods rich in iron, such as lean red meat, chicken, fortified cereal and soy nuts. If you are feeling symptoms such as fatigue and weakness, ask your doctor to test you for anemia (it’s a simple blood test) at your next physical.
4. Order water — and ask for a refill
A new German study found that when you drink 17 ounces of water (about two glasses) within a certain time frame, your metabolic rate shoots up by about 30 percent. Using these results, they estimate that by increasing your current water intake by 1.5 liters a day, a person would burn an extra 17,400 calories a year, resulting in about a five-pound weight loss.
5. Get your thyroid checked
Suspect you have a sluggish metabolism? You might have hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid gland, which afflicts about 25 percent of American women — many of whom don’t know they have the condition, according to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. “The thyroid gland controls your body’s metabolism, so one of the first signs that it may be off is an inability to lose weight,” explains Peeke. Your doctor can determine if you’re suffering from hypothyroidism by running a blood test. If you do have an underactive thyroid, you’ll be treated with a synthetic thyroid supplement, which you will need to take for the rest of your life (it will return your metabolism to normal, so it should be easier to lose weight).