Editor’s note: The following excerpt is taken from the book Health Bliss: 50 Revitalizing NatureFoods & Lifestyle Choices to Promote Vibrant Health (Hay House, June 2008) and is available at all bookstores or online at: www.hayhouse.com.
Here are some tips for increasing your metabolism, selecting the right exercise and foods, and making good choices to create a fit, healthy body.
1. Increase your muscle mass. Muscle burns fat – it’s that simple. Exercise increases muscle, tones it, alters its chemistry and increases your metabolic rate. When you work out regularly, you actually burn calories even when you’re sleeping, but you must exercise correctly to get the best results. Before I describe the best methods to lose fat and increase metabolism, let’s briefly explore why lean muscle tissue is so important.
More muscle means a faster metabolism, because it uses more energy to exist. It’s a highly metabolic tissue, burning five times as many calories as most other body tissues, pound-for-pound. In other words, it requires more oxygen and calories to sustain itself. When you have more muscle mass, you burn more calories than someone less muscular, even when you’re both sitting still. That’s why people who build muscle have an easier time maintaining a healthful weight. They’re simply more efficient at burning calories.
If you increase muscle mass, you raise the number of calories your body is using every moment – not just during exercise, but also at work, at play, and even when sleeping. The addition of 10 pounds of muscle will burn approximately 500 extra calories per day. You’d have to jog five miles a day, seven days a week, to achieve that without the alteration in body composition. Ten extra pounds of muscle can burn a pound of fat in one week – that’s 52 pounds of fat a year!
To increase muscle, you must engage in weight lifting, also known as strength or resistance training. Actually it’s not the lifting itself, but the physiological effects that take place in the 48 hours afterward, during the recovery period that enhance metabolism. In other words, very little fat is burned during the strength-training sessions; but lots of it melts down over the next couple of days.
Long after you’ve finished lifting, your fat-burning enzymes are working harder than ever to repair the damage. They must replace the sugar that was used by the sugar-burning enzymes, and to build up the supplies, your body burns fat. It takes a lot of energy to restore sugar (glycogen is stored muscle sugar that’s used up during weight lifting), which means that lots of calories are burned. ALL of this energy must be supplied by the fat-burning enzymes. That’s why you must make this type of exercise a part of your fat-loss/vitality program – it stimulates metabolism and fat burning.
I can’t emphasize this enough: The best way to increase lean muscle mass is through resistance training, which means weight lifting or resistance machines-barbells, dumbbells, machines, cables, or even "free-hand" movements such as push-ups, sit-ups (crunches), and dips. All it takes to add 10 pounds of muscle is a regular weight-training program involving 30-40 minutes, three times a week, for about six months.
2. Increase your aerobic exercise. This trains muscles to burn fat and increase metabolism, and it means exercising with oxygen, not being winded or out of breath. These types of exercises, which are non-stop and fairly gentle, change your metabolism. Here’s a key point to keep in mind: Muscles burn fat only in the presence of oxygen. For example, if you’re jogging with your husband and he’s breezing along and singing a song, while you’re so out of breath that you can barely put two syllables together, he’s reducing fat, but your fat-burning mechanisms have shut down. Muscles consume two kinds of fuel-sugar (glucose) and fat. Your lean tissues really do prefer to burn fat because it’s more efficient; there’s more of it, so it lasts a long time and produces lots of energy.
Does that mean you shouldn’t do high-intensity sprints every so often? No, as I’ll explain shortly, but you must make aerobic exercise part of your fitness program at least five days a week if you want to lose fat and tone up. By using the big muscles of the thighs and buttocks in an activity that’s steady and nonstop (such as cross-country skiing, bicycling, rowing, walking, and hiking), which makes you inhale deeply but doesn’t leave you out of breath, you’re supplying oxygen to the muscles, which promotes fat burning and makes you use up more food calories.
3. Add higher intensity bursts to your exercise plan. I work some high-intensity activities into my exercise program a few times each week. For example, if I’m hiking, I’ll increase my pace up a hill for 30-90 seconds every so often. (Notice I didn’t say "a breakneck run"; just go a little faster than usual.) If you’re cycling, pedal faster for several seconds. High intensity bursts of exercise help burn fat. Why? When you force your body to raise the level of exertion for a short burst of "getting winded," you’re making yourself recover under stress (in other words, while you continue to exercise). This little sprint adds intensity without causing injury. And those fat-burning enzymes are realizing that not only do they need to grow when you’re doing regular aerobic activity, but now they must increase even faster. In other words, a few moments of exercising just a little bit harder than usual will help force you to recover while still exercising, which will burn more fat. If you’re just a beginner and have never worked out before, wait for about one month before adding in these bursts, and then pump it up if your doctor says you can.
4. Graze. Liquid meals, diet pills, and special packaged foods aren’t your answer to increasing metabolism, weight control, or better health. Instead, and in addition to regular exercise, learn how to eat so that your body becomes an efficient fat-burning machine.
The results of four national surveys show that most people try to lose weight by eating 1,000-1,500 calories per day. However, cutting calories to less than 1,200 (if you’re a woman) or 1,400 (if you’re a man) doesn’t provide enough food to be satisfying in the long term. Eating less than these amounts slows down metabolism and makes it difficult to get adequate amounts of certain nutrients, such as folic acid, magnesium, and zinc.
The typical dieter will often skip meals. And as research points out, the worst one to drop, if you want to increase your metabolism, is breakfast. This temporary fasting state sends a signal to the body that food is scarce. As a result, the stress hormones (including cortisol) increase, and the body begins "lightening the load" and shedding its muscle tissue, which decreases the need for food. By the next feeding, the pancreas is sensitized and will sharply increase blood insulin levels, which is the body’s signal to make fat. And if you’re insulin-resistant, as many sedentary people are, you make extra amounts of this hormone (insulin) and create/deposit fat very easily, especially if you eat refined carbohydrates. Have you ever wondered how sumo wrestlers get so big? They fast and then gorge themselves. Clearly, this approach is absolutely counterproductive if your goal is to lose fat.
If you want to increase your metabolism, it’s best to eat several small healthful meals each day, about every three hours or so (five to six meals daily). This "grazing" approach keeps your metabolism stoked. It also keeps you from feeling deprived – a chief complaint of anyone who has ever been on a diet.
5. Drink at least two quarts of water each day. Water is very important in helping maintain a healthy metabolic rate and a fit body. It’s essential to drink at least two quarts of water per day (at least eight glasses) between meals, more if you’re physically active. This suppresses your appetite naturally. Have a large glass about 15-20 minutes before each meal or snack. I cannot stress enough how simply drinking purified water contributes greatly to fat loss and the reshaping of your body, even if you don’t change any of your other habits.
The liver’s main functions are detoxification and regulation of metabolism. The kidneys also can get rid of toxins if they have sufficient water. Drinking enough water daily allows the kidneys to spare the liver some of its purifying efforts, which allows it to metabolize more fat. Adequate water also will decrease bloating and edema caused by fluid accumulation by flushing out sodium, acidic wastes, and other toxins.
6. Eat good fats. Sedentary, overweight people tend to eat a higher-fat diet than those of healthful weight. Fatty foods slow metabolism, which causes the body to convert dietary fat into body fat very easily. Gram-for-gram, fats not only have more than twice the calories of carbohydrates and proteins (nine compared to four), they also burn only 2 percent of their calories in the process of being stored as fat. By contrast, protein and carbohydrates burn about 25 percent of their calories during the same process.
It’s considerably more difficult to convert protein and carbohydrates into body fat because you actually burn calories doing so. If you currently are maintaining your weight on 3,000 calories per day, and then decrease the fat from 40 percent to 20 percent, you can lose one pound of fat in about three weeks – while at the same time eating 20 percent more food from complex carbohydrates and protein. The bottom line is this: Eating too much fat (especially from animal products) makes you fat.
But not all fats make this happen. In fact, you can also fight fat with healthful fat. Sounds paradoxical, doesn’t it? Omega-3 fatty acids actually can help increase your metabolic rate. They also rid the body of excess fluids and can increase your energy level. Omega-6 (LA) fatty acids (especially gamma linolenic acid or GLA) also are essential to a healthy metabolism and are less likely to be deficient in a healthful diet. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseed, flax meal, flax oil, walnuts, organic hemp milk, nuts, and leafy green vegetables. For family or friends who still consume animal products, omega-3s are also available in certain fish, such as salmon.
7. Meditate to reduce stress. Sometimes the things that you experience can put a burden on you physically by causing endocrine or hormonal events that stress your body. Medical experts now believe that these stresses are at the root of many degenerative disease processes. In other words, stress has a biological as well as an emotional effect on you, and it can diminish your body’s ability to fortify, protect, regenerate and heal itself over time.
Stress can be triggered by emotions, such as anger, fear, worry, grief and guilt. It may be the result of an injury or trauma, an accident or surgery. Everyday pressures like family squabbles, impossible bosses, unfaithful spouses, unruly teens, and overdue bills can cause strain, as can an extreme change in sleep pattern, diet, exercise, and even climate. So can chronic illness, pain, allergies and inflammation. Too much work – too much of almost anything – can create tension.
Produced by the adrenal glands and commonly known as the "stress hormone," cortisol helps the body cope with all types of stress, from infection to fright, from a major job change or relocation to divorce or the death of a loved one. Whether you’re facing an emergency, an accident, a confrontation or just doing your job or getting some exercise, cortisol is there to get you up and going and through the day. It floods your system to assist you in emergencies and helps provide nutrients you need to cope with stress. Normally, once you’ve managed the stressful circumstances, the brain shuts off the production of cortisol, your physical reactions subside, and you quickly return to normal.
But there’s another side of the story. If the brain perceives that stress is ongoing or chronic, it can override the messages to shut off cortisol production. Creation of the hormone then stays elevated because the brain thinks the body needs it to cope with what’s going on. So as important and necessary as cortisol is, you can have too much of it. If too great an amount stays in your body for too long, a damaging cycle can begin that can lead to blood-sugar problems, fat accumulation, compromised immune function, exhaustion, bone loss, and even heart disease. If you experience one major stress after another, and if you haven’t created ways to reduce and release that tension, it can have a detrimental effect on your waistline and your health.
A daily practice of meditation has been shown to cause a generalized reduction in numerous physiological and biochemical stress indicators – such as decreases in heart rate, respiration rate, stress hormones, and pulse – and an increase in oxygen consumption and slow alpha waves, brain waves associated with relaxation. Meditation is being used successfully by people suffering from chronic pain and conditions such as cancer and heart disease, as well as stress-related disorders such as abdominal pain, chronic diarrhea and ulcers.
8. Nourish your spirit. This is necessary to maintain a healthy body. The real epidemic in our society is spiritual heart disease – the experience of low self-esteem combined with feelings of loneliness, isolation and alienation that pervade our culture. Many people who suffer from spiritual malaise use food or stimulants such as drugs, caffeine, alcohol, sex, gambling or overwork (or almost anything to the extreme) to numb the pain and get through the day.
Stretching, deep breathing and meditation will relax your mind, and you’ll experience a greater sense of peace and well-being. From there, you’ll be able to make eating and exercise decisions – and other lifestyle choices – that are life-enhancing rather than self-destructive. Engage in physical activities that nourish your body and soul. Cherished activities of mine include hiking, in-line skating, gardening, walking in a botanical or flower garden, stretching and yoga.
In conclusion, dieting alone isn’t sufficient to achieve healthful, permanent weight loss; good nutrition combined with regular aerobic exercise is better. But a program that includes strength training, aerobic exercise, sensible eating, stress management, meditation and other nourishment for your spirit provides an unbeatable combination for reaching and maintaining your ideal weight, improving your metabolism, creating a fit, lean body, and celebrating life.