Staying healthy over the course of your lifetime is all about maintaining a healthy weight, and one of the most important physiological contributors to this is your metabolism. Your metabolism is the rate at which your body expends energy and burns calories and is based on factors such as your genetic makeup, body size, and age.
Many of us have been taught that metabolism slows with age, particularly during mid-life, making it more difficult to keep off the pounds from that point onward. However, recent research has upended the traditional thought about when your age affects your metabolism.
Metabolically, 60 Is the New 40
Historically, the belief concerning metabolism was that it peaked in your 20s and gradually decreased as you age. Life events like pregnancy, middle age, and menopause were presumed to be turning points during the life course that would accelerate the metabolic slow down.
A new study published in the journal Science finds that it is still true that metabolism decreases with age, just not when we thought it did. It turns out that your metabolism and ability to burn calories relative to your body size is highest from when you’re born until age one. From ages one to 20, metabolism decreases roughly 2.8% each year.
The next metabolic stage occurs from ages 20 to 60. During this period, your metabolism holds steady regardless of events like pregnancy, middle age, and menopause. After age 60, your metabolism declines roughly 0.7% per year.
What The Research Means
In the past, a middle-aged metabolic decrease was blamed for the weight gain that many people inevitably felt would occur. Given these new revelations, the metabolism can no longer be the culprit for a thickening belly.
Weight gain in your 40s and 50s can instead be attributed to life changes that keep you from burning calories like you did when you were younger. You’re more apt to have competing priorities—such as kids, aging parent, middle or senior management jobs that are more demanding—that keep you from getting the same level of exercise you did when you were younger. These demands may cause you to eat on the go more and have more work dinners, which may not be as healthy or make you less aware of your caloric intake. They may also increase your stress level and decrease the amount of sleep you get, both of which can cause weight gain.
In addition, you invariably have more health conditions you deal with as you age simply because of the greater number of years you’ve been on Earth. Side effects of the medications you take to combat these issue may include weight gain.
How to Maintain Your Weight as Your Metabolism Changes
Some articles will tell you that doing particular workouts, increased muscle mass, eating certain foods, and sleeping well will boost your metabolism. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, however, these are all myths. Any effects on your metabolism from implementing these practices will be negligible.
Ultimately, keeping a healthy weight is all about balancing what you eat with what you burn off through physical activity. So whether your metabolism is declining after age 60—or even if it’s steady from ages 20 to 60—eating healthy foods in acceptable portions and exercising on a regular basis are the keys to healthy living throughout your life.