Signs of Slow Metabolism & How to Increase it As You Age

Have you noticed that it’s more difficult to lose weight as you get older, or that you’re more likely to gain weight in the first place? As we age, it’s normal to notice a slowdown in metabolism, but until relatively recently, even medical experts weren’t certain about exactly how this process unfolded. In a study published in Science in 2021, researchers admitted that “we know surprisingly little about total [energy] expenditure in humans or how it changes over the life span.”

The study noted that a decline in muscle mass, as well as reduced physical activity, are likely contributors to a slower metabolism in older adults. Contrary to popular belief, they found that metabolism increased substantially in the first year of life, then gradually declined until adulthood, but held steady from the ages of 20 to 60 years, after which another decline began. That’s right: they found that it wasn’t until after 60 years of age that the metabolism significantly slowed.

That’s why, regardless of our age, it’s crucial to keep our metabolism revved up through lifestyle choices that we can control. Let’s take a look at some signs of a slow metabolism, as well as ways to increase it with simple, health-boosting strategies.

Signs of a Slow Metabolism

For those who need a quick refresher, metabolism refers to a chain of complex physical processes. According to the National Library of Medicine, the intake of nutrients and substances that fuel our bodies and give us energy isn’t unique to humans. Metabolism occurs in all living things, transforming sustenance into the building blocks that allow functions like movement, growth, development, and reproduction. And basal metabolic rates (the calories burned through basic functioning of the body, also called resting metabolic rate) can be affected by numerous factors, from sex and age to diet and exercise.

What are some signs that your metabolism isn’t functioning at its optimal level? You may feel sluggish or tired, or even struggle with fatigue. You may notice weight gain despite not changing your diet or find it difficult to lose weight even if you eat healthy. You may experience bloating, gas, or may frequently feel cold.

Some people also report lower moods—and, conversely, studies have found that those with major depressive disorder may have an elevated risk of metabolic issues. Other causes for a slow metabolism can include genetics, certain medical conditions, inadequate sleep, too much stress, poor diet, and lack of physical activity. The good news is, we can address many of these potential culprits. It’s possible to make healthier lifestyle choices and rev up the metabolism once more.

Here are some helpful strategies to get you started.

5 Ways to Increase Your Metabolism At Any Age

Signs of Low Metabolism & How to Increase Your Metabolism | BrainMD

  1. Incorporate Strength Training

Strength training is one of my favorite exercises, for so many reasons: it boosts your mood and focus, improves sleep, helps shed fat, builds muscle, can lower risk for type 2 diabetes, and may even help fend off dementia. But one of the most interesting benefits of strength training is the effect it has on metabolism. That’s because, as you build muscle, you boost metabolism—every pound of muscle requires 6 calories per day, compared to only 2 calories for a pound of fat. We naturally lose muscle as we age, so it’s especially important to counteract this through strength training. Plus, there’s the phenomenon known as Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC), which means that your body continues to burn more calories long after the workout ends—for hours or even days. Strength training really is the gift that keeps on giving.

  1. Sneak in Extra Activity

Increase Your Metabolism with Walking | BrainMD Yes, working out is important, but that takes up just a fraction of your day. How are you spending your other waking hours? If you’re glued to the couch or desk around the clock, you can still experience symptoms like sluggishness and a slower metabolism (not to mention a bunch of other health problems). In addition to making time to work out, try to find more ways to move whenever possible throughout your day. Some people consider these short activity breaks the fitness equivalent of snacking. For example, if you’re often sitting at a desk, get up and walk around at regular intervals. Need to take an elevator? Take the stairs instead. Park far from the store to grab an extra bit of walking. Or take a stroll while you’re catching up with friends on the phone. It’s important to combat our too-sedentary modern lifestyles. When it comes to movement, every little bit helps.

  1. Load Up On Protein

Protein is a building block of life—and of our muscles. It provides the body with essential amino acids and helps to balance blood sugar. It even boosts sensitivity to the hormone leptin, which tells your brain when you’re full; that’s why you feel more satisfied after a protein-rich meal. You also burn more calories eating protein than you would with a high-carb, sugar-filled diet, because, of all the macronutrients, protein requires the most energy to digest. Ensure that every meal and snack features a healthy portion of high-quality protein; I aim for 3 to 6 ounces in a typical meal and 1 to 2 ounces for a snack. Choose lean proteins from both animal and plant sources, such as wild salmon, organic eggs, spinach, broccoli, kale, and nuts. I also love adding BrainMD’s OMNI Protein powder (chocolate or vanilla) to my morning smoothies to start the day off right.

  1. Prioritize Hydration and Sleep

A well-hydrated, well-rested body is necessary to carry out all its many functions, including maintaining an optimal metabolism. Research has shown that metabolic cycles have their own circadian rhythms, while disruption in sleep (such as that experienced by night-shift workers) may contribute to metabolic issues. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of shut-eye per night, on a regular schedule. Meanwhile, drinking enough water is a must to keep the cells of the body hydrated and functioning properly, as well as to assist muscle development for maximized metabolism. The general rule is to drink half of your body weight in ounces. So, if you weigh 140 pounds, drink 70 ounces of water every day. And, if you want an extra boost of flavor and vitamins, you can add BrainMD’s Brain Boost On-the-Go, which has B vitamins and l-theanine.

  1. Nix the Junk Food

It should go without saying at this point, but if you’re still subjecting your body to the Standard American Diet (SAD), you’re doing a lot of damage, including to your metabolism. One study, published in 2015, examined healthy college students who were fed a high-fat diet (55% of daily calories) and found that their muscles’ ability to oxidize glucose after a meal was disrupted after only 5 days. These responses, researchers noted, can create the conditions for insulin resistance, a risk factor for diabetes and other diseases. So even for those who generally avoid refined carbs, added sugar, and ultra-processed foods of the SAD diet, “splurging” around special events like vacations or holidays can also be damaging—and fast. It’s best to avoid junk food year-round and spare your body this constant yo-yo of readjustment.

Metabolism Can Be Improved

When it comes to physical health, too many people give up before they try to make changes, claiming they’re doomed by genetics or “too old” to create more positive habits. Don’t be limited by these false beliefs. It’s never too late to start making better choices for your body and longevity.

From adding in a few weight-training sessions each week to being more mindful about how you fuel your body, simple efforts can make a big difference. Even better, these changes may not only have a positive impact on your metabolism but can help ensure the improved health of your entire body—at any age.

Tana Amen, BSN, RN