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Metabolism, or how fast your body burns calories, plays a key role in helping you lose weight and keep your body in tip-top shape. But don't worry: Boosting your metabolism doesn¿t have to mean intense workouts or a super-strict diet.
According to Robert Reames, CSCS, CN, CPT, boosting your metabolism means more than just exercising. Everything has a role, from what you're eating to how much sleep you get.
We'll show you 12 super-simple ways you can tune up your metabolism.
If you keep a schedule that doesn't include exercise, you're missing out on a great metabolism-booster.
Try these simple ideas to keep your metabolism going:
"You don't have to go to the gym or go for a run, but be sure to move in some way," says Ann Kulze, M.D., a member of the Medical Advisory Board for the Wellness Councils of America and author of Dr. Ann's 10-Step Diet (Top Ten Wellness & Fitness, 2008). "A healthy metabolism requires regular movement, so don't sit for more than two hours without getting up."
Try these simple ideas to keep your metabolism going:
-- Wear a pedometer and strive for 10,000 steps a day.
-- Forget the elevator and take the stairs.
-- When you start feeling tired, go to the kitchen or drinking fountain to get a sip of water.
-- Stretch every hour, even if it's at your desk.
Incorporate interval training (alternating between more-intense and less-intense activities during one workout) into your exercise routine for an even bigger metabolism boost, says Mark Hyman, M.D., editor in chief of Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, a member of the board of directors for the Institute for Functional Medicine, and the author of Ultrametabolism: The Simple Plan for Automatic Weight Loss (Atria, 2008).
Interval exercises don't have to focus on hardcore running or cycling. Brisk walking followed by a slower pace will still boost metabolism.
Start your day off right -- and increase your metabolic rate -- by eating a balanced breakfast.
The National Weight Control Registry -- one of the largest ongoing studies of successful weight losers -- has found that the majority of people who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for five years or more eat breakfast every day.
Melina Jampolis, M.D., and Heart-Healthy Living advisory board member, says that by starting your day with a balance of carbohydrates and lean protein, you boost calorie-burning in three ways:
1) Your body burns calories through the digestion, absorption, and processing of food.
2) Eating breakfast can boost your energy level, which helps increase calories burned throughout the day.
3) Providing your body with healthful fuel after nighttime "fasting" keeps your body from using calorie-burning muscle for energy during physical activity.
Shape up your morning routine by following these breakfast tips:
-- Include protein-rich foods like eggs or nuts on your breakfast menu. Consuming protein is critical to jumpstarting your metabolism for the day and preventing overeating later on, says Mark Hyman, M.D.
-- Avoid sugar-heavy cereals and pastries, which can spike and then dip your blood sugar levels, causing you to get hungry later in the morning.
Get your beauty rest! Sleep deprivation revs up your appetite-stimulating hormones and leads to a sluggish metabolism. It also zaps your energy, which means you're less likely to move, says Anne Kulze, M.D. "Sleep deprivation tends to promote insulin resistance," she says. "Even three weeks of sleep deprivation can change insulin activity, which translates to a slow metabolism."
Mark Hyman, M.D., recommends getting seven to eight hours of shut-eye a night. "Sleep deprivation triggers high levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone driving you to crave and eat more sugar and refined carbohydrates," he says.
Exercise revs up metabolism and builds lean body mass (muscle). While all workouts can lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and stress levels, strength training jump-starts your metabolism.
"The more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism," Anne Kluze, M.D. says. About 20-30 percent of the calories you burn are determined by the amount of muscle mass you have.
Relax with a hot cup of freshly brewed tea. Not only can it boost your metabolism, but it has heart-health benefits as well.
"Green tea is the only indulgence I know of that can boost your immunity, reduce your cardiovascular risk, and bump up your metabolism for zero calories," says Ann Kulze, M.D.
Drinking tea may boost your metabolism and help keep you slim, according to a report in the Journal of Nutrition. In one study, people who drank five 10-ounce servings of oolong tea for three days increased their metabolism by 3 percent more than people who drank water. That boost amounted to 67 calories per day. Over one year, that could add up to a 6-1¿2-pound weight loss. The researchers believe that the polyphenols in tea may be responsible for stimulating metabolism.
Heart-healthy bonus: One study at Boston University School of Medicine showed that flavonoids in black tea inhibit the formation of plaque in artery walls. Another study in Greece indicated that drinking green tea significantly increased artery dilation within 30 minutes.
Heat up your menu to boost your metabolism. Spicy foods such as hot mustards, hot sauce, chili peppers, salsa, and wasabi have been shown to increase metabolism for hours after you've finished a meal.
Spices also boost your mood. "Hot foods activate pain receptors in the mouth, which cause the release of endorphins, the body's natural feel-good chemicals," says Anne Kulze, M.D.
Ideas for getting spice into your meals:
-- Add hot sauce to bean dishes or cooked vegetables
-- Enjoy a bit of hot salsa with whole grain tortilla chips
Note: The heartburn caused by eating spicy foods and the chest pain associated with a heart attack are very different issues, but they can feel very similar.
Stress can elevate your cardiovascular risk and decrease your metabolism. Mark Hyman, M.D., says that under stress the body stores calories and conserves weight. Even without eating more or decreasing your exercise, stress can cause you to gain weight.
Reducing your stress level can help keep your metabolism running its best.
Try these super-simple stressbusters:
-- Breathe deeply.
-- Spend time with friends.
-- Take a walk.
-- Get a massage.
-- Keep a journal.
-- Listen to music.
Guzzle water to bump up your metabolism. A 2003 study in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism showed that drinking water can increase the rate at which people burn calories. According to the findings, after drinking 17 ounces of water (slightly less than the size of a purchased bottle of water), the subjects' metabolic rates briefly increased by 30 percent.
Drinking water and eating water-based foods also can make you feel full, preventing you from overeating at mealtime.
Add omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat, to your diet for heart health and a boost in metabolism.
"Omega-3 fats play a crucial role in fat-burning," Anne Kluze, M.D., says. Kulze recommends adding omega-3 rich foods as oily fish (think salmon or tuna), walnuts, dark leafy greens, or whole soy foods to your diet.
If including those foods in your diet isn't doable, consider a daily fish oil supplement.
"Omega-3 fats are essential for your cells to run properly," says Mark Hyman, M.D. "They help balance your blood sugar and speed up your metabolism."
Not only do omega-3s help your metabolism, but omega-3s have been shown to:
-- lower blood pressure
-- lower triglycerides
-- combat atherosclerosis
-- reduce the prevalence of some dangerous arrhythmias
Heart-healthy bonus: Several clinical trials have shown omega-3 reduces the risk of heart attack by 19-45 percent.
Get your omega-3s with these recipes:
Keep your blood sugar steady and your metabolism up by limiting the sugar and white flour products you consume.
"White flour products, white rice, white potatoes, and sugar lead to rapid surges in blood glucose," Anne Kluze, M.D. says. These foods spike and then dip your blood sugar levels, which can make you feel hungry.
Replace "bad" carbs with fruits, veggies, whole grains, and legumes. Other easy substitutions include choosing:
-- Sweet potatoes over starchy white potatoes
-- A small piece of dark chocolate instead of a cookie
-- Brown rice instead of white rice
Heart-health tip: "Bad" carbs can elevate your blood pressure and triglycerides and lower your HDL (good) cholesterol.
Beans are a cheap and convenient way to give a metabolism boost to your daily menu. "Beans have a lot of protein and fill you up," Anne Kulze, M.D., says. When you feel full on these low-calorie foods, you'll eat less later. Beans are also a good source of B vitamins, a nutrient that has been shown to be important in keeping your metabolism going.
Not only do beans provide a metabolism boost, they're heart-healthy as well. "Beans are loaded with soluble fiber, which lowers cholesterol, and they're filled with B vitamins, which are important for heart health," Kulze says.
Take advantage of this inexpensive way to boost your metabolism by adding beans to casseroles, soups, and salads.
Heart-healthy bonus: Using beans as a protein source helps reduce your amount of saturated fat consumed from animal proteins.
Get your daily dose of beans with these recipes:
Choose monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, avocados, nuts, and canola oil to keep your system running smoothly, Anne Kulze, M.D., says.
Avoid saturated fats or trans fats -- they tend to slow down your system. These not-so-good-for-you fats are found in foods such as fatty red meat, butter, whole dairy products, hydrogenated oils, and shortening.
*Note that everyone's metabolism works differently. Though our tips are heart-healthy and can help you burn calories, they may only cause a slight boost in metabolism. "Most individuals don't have a metabolism issue, and there are very few things you can do to significantly increase your metabolism," says Tim Church, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., and endowed chair in health wisdom at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge.
Our tips point you in the right direction, but if weight loss is your goal, focus on eating less and moving more, Church says.
Enjoy these recipes, which feature monounsaturated fats: