Remember your 20s, when splitting a pizza and rocking a skinny girl dress didn't feel mutually exclusive? You weren't out of your mind then -- or now, when it seems like you just can't eat like you did before. It's true that keeping the pounds off can get tougher as we age, but it's not impossible.
Starting in your 30s, your metabolism can slow by about 5 percent per decade, which can translate to a yearly weight gain, but only (we repeat, only) if you do nothing. Just as roommates and keg parties have made way for family and good wine, adjusting your exercise and eating habits over time doesn't have to be a sacrifice. Check out our proactive diet and lifestyle tweaks to help you look and feel your best every decade.
Burn, Baby, Burn!
Try these little tricks to torch more calories 24/7:
Spice it up: Recent research found that athletes who added red pepper to high-carb meals saw a slight boost in their metabolism for 30 minutes afterwards. Try topping salads or soups with red pepper flakes.
Caffeinate: There's evidence that coffee or caffeinated tea can
increase your calorie burn in the short term by 5–12 percent. (But don't overdo it; experts recommend capping your intake at four cups daily.)
Antioxidize: Studies show that antioxidants in green tea, raisins, and dark chocolate can prompt your body to burn calories and fat. Another study found that phytochemicals in white tea can stop your body from producing new fat cells.
Hydrate with a twist: Your metabolism needs lots of liquid. Put your bevs on ice and add a twist of lemon to bump up the benefits. The cold forces your metabolism to work a bit harder, while the pectin in lemon peel can help with weight loss.
Dos and Don'ts for Your 30s
Your metabolism is humming. Keep it that way by laying the foundation to maintain a healthy weight.
Get Seven Hours -- or More -- of Shut-Eye: The National Sleep Foundation recommends at least that much for optimal health. Sleep deprivation increases levels of ghrelin, a hormone that fuels appetite, and decreases leptin, a hormone that helps you feel full. Also, when you wake up, give your metabolism a running start by exposing yourself to natural light as soon as possible; this signals your body to fire up its metabolic engine.
Make lunch your main meal :"Your metabolism is fastest in the morning through lunch, and slows as your body shuts down for the night," says Frank Lipman, M.D., author of Revive: Stop Feeling Spent and Start Living Again. Have a solid breakfast (about 500 calories), a hearty lunch (around 700 calories) and a light dinner (600 calories). work your core Muscle burns calories three times faster than fat, so the more muscle you have, the better prepared you'll be to counter a metabolic slowdown. Exercises that strengthen and build your core -- think yoga and pilates -- are especially effective because they work large muscle groups. Enhance the effects by getting the recommended daily dose of vitamin D (450 IU or more; 1 cup of fortified milk has about 100 IU), which plays a role in maintaining muscle mass, and iron, which helps shuttle oxygen throughout your body to keep your calorie-burning at its best. Ask your doctor to check your levels of both at your next appointment.
Eat less than 1,200 calories a day: Too much calorie restriction can cause your metabolism to slow down by about 30 percent, says Laura Cipullo, R.D., author of The Diabetes Comfort Food Diet Cookbook. When you're scaling back, take tiny, not drastic, steps. Cutting just 100 calories a day can save 10 pounds of weight gain per year. Easy lunchtime strategies: Make your sandwiches open-faced, use one slice of cheese instead of two, and measure your mayo to limit it to 1 Tbsp.
Neglect your emotional well-being: The everyday tension that comes from juggling a job and family life can increase your body's production of the hormone cortisol, which can contribute to the storage of belly fat. Set aside 10 minutes every day to do deep breathing exercises, which will offset the effects of stress, decrease cortisol, and help keep your metabolism on track.
Dos and Don't for Your 40s
Meet your body's changes head-on with these simple, intuitive adjustments:
DO Fight fat: "In your 40s, you start to shift towards producing more estrogen than progesterone, and this imbalance can increase the amount of fat you store," says Mark Hyman, M.D., chairman of the Institute for Functional Medicine. A top priority should be increasing your fiber intake, which slows the rate at which sugar and simple carbs enter your bloodstream, and can boost your metabolism by up to 35 percent. Aim for at least 25 g, from sources like berries (1 cup gives you 8 g), whole grains like brown rice and quinoa, and fresh vegetables.
Muscle up: Beginning at age 40, women start to lose muscle mass twice as fast as men, so strength training becomes more important than ever. For an effective counter-attack, do 30 minutes of strength training two to three times a week, recommends Leslie Bonci, R.D., director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Center for Sports Medicine.
Eat to beat inflammation: Your metabolism takes a hit from foods high in sugar, saturated fat, or processed ingredients, all of which can prompt your body to produce inflammatory chemicals that slow things down. Focus on eating whole grains, fruits, vegetables -- dark, leafy greens -- and foods like salmon and walnuts, which are rich in inflammation-fighting omega-3s.
DON'T Skimp on protein: Your body immediately breaks protein down into amino acids, which then go directly to your muscles to keep them working their best to burn calories. Problem is, your whole body needs protein -- and when there isn't enough to go around, your muscles are the first to lose out. "Now's the time to keep protein stores high," says Caroline Apovian, M.D., director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at Boston Medical Center. When Apovian studied baby boomers who'd started exercising and eating healthfully, those who upped their protein intake lost about four times more weight, gained more muscle, and lost on average 2 inches of belly fat. Aim for 70 g of protein daily, but don't limit your sources to meat, which can rack up saturated fat. Reach your quota with foods like Greek yogurt (up to 18 g of protein per serving), quinoa (8 g in a cup), and eggs (6 g for one).
Dos and Don'ts for Your 50s, 60s, and Beyond
Keep up the good work with these easy add-ons:
DO Interval-train: As you age, your endurance levels can drop. Switching from a sustained workout (a 30-minute jog or walk) to brief intervals of pushing yourself intensely (four short bursts of speed walking interspersed in a half-hour routine) can keep your calorie burn high even if you exercise less. How? When you're taking it down a notch and tired from a sprint, your heart rate and calorie burn are still going strong, even though your body is getting a chance to rest, Hyman says.
Have an anti-stress plan: From changes at home, like kids leaving for college and parents needing care as they age, to purely physical events like menopause, these are decades full of shifts -- which can be stressful. Preserve your emotional balance by taking just 20 minutes a day to relax. A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that people who took this time for themselves daily had an almost immediate metabolism boost.
Ask your doctor about CoQ10: Levels of this enzyme, which helps your body turn calories into energy, can nose-dive with age -- which can contribute to a sluggish metabolism. "Some people can feel more energized when they start supplementing with CoQ10," Lipman says. Natural sources, like mackerel, herring, and liver, are relatively unpopular, so talk to your doctor about taking a supplement -- typically 200 mg a day.
DON'T Skip meals: Breakfast is especially important, as it jump-starts your body's process of using calories to break down food. For many, appetite decreases with age, but going too long without eating causes your metabolism to drag. If you often find that come 3 p.m. you're just having lunch, aim to eat six small meals rather than three large ones, advises Maxine Smith, R.D., a nutritionist at the Cleveland Clinic. Along with lean protein, incorporate legumes like lentils and chickpeas into your meals or snacks. Current research shows they can give your metabolism a 24-hour boost.