- After reading this article, you are not allowed to use your age as an excuse for a slow metabolism anymore. However, the cool thing is that you’re also going to learn exactly how to keep your metabolism in optimal condition to live a strong and healthy life.
- Turns out your metabolism can slow down as you get older, but not really because you get older, for the most part. Between the ages of 20 up 60 there doesn’t seem to be a decline due to age.
- At the end of the day, it mostly comes down to daily movement, less/no exercise, and with that less muscle mass. All great reasons to stay active, and to keep lifting your weights!
Does your metabolism slow down with age? I used to be the skinny kid who could eat everything in sight, without gaining even the slightest bit of body fat. After that, as I got closer to 20 years old, I slowly gained weight. All the way until I reached my heaviest point of 110kg at the age of 22.
Let me ask you a question. Have you experienced something similar? Did you, as you got older, slowly gain weight too? Are you currently struggling to lose weight because of a slow metabolism, or do you know someone who is?
In this article we explore what happens to our metabolism as we age, and what to do about it. First I’ll answer our main question: “Does your metabolism actually slow down with age?”. Second, we’ll talk about why many people do struggle with a slower metabolism as they get older. Lastly, I’ll give you 5 ways to keep your metabolism from slowing down as you age.
Spoiler alert: After reading this article, you are not allowed to use your age as an excuse for a slow metabolism anymore. However, the cool thing is that you’re also going to learn exactly how to keep your metabolism in optimal condition to live a strong and healthy life.
Does your metabolism actually slow down with age, because of age? Or does it have to do more with activity and lifestyle? You’re about to find out..
Does your metabolism actually slow down with age?
Yes and no. Turns out your metabolism can slow down as you get older, but not really because you get older.
A study as recent as 2021, by Pontzer, et al. (1) busted the myth of your metabolism continuously slowing down as you age. Using a massive database including both male and female subjects ranging anywhere from 8 days up to 95 years old, they looked at Total Daily Energy Expenditure (6421 subjects), as well as BMR, or Basal Metabolic Rate (2008 subjects).
“But how does that make sense? Don’t smaller bodies burn fewer calories than bigger bodies?”
You’re right, this is also why your BMR decreases when you lose weight (2). That’s why in this study, in order to be able to compare the data, it was corrected for size, fat and fat-free mass (anything that’s not body fat, including organs, muscle tissue, etc.).
“Total expenditure increased with fat-free mass in a power-law manner, with four distinct life stages. Fat-free mass-adjusted expenditure accelerates rapidly in neonates to ~50% above adult values at ~1 year; declines slowly to adult levels by ~20 years; remains stable in adulthood (20 to 60 years), even during pregnancy; then declines in older adults. These changes shed light on human development and aging and should help shape nutrition and health strategies across the life span.” (1)
Before we continue..
… I wanted to address what I underlined in that quote. Because that’s exactly what I help my online nutrition coaching clients with. I am here to teach and help you apply the right, sustainable nutrition and health strategies you need to live a strong, healthy life.
If you don’t mind I’d like to offer you a free call, on the house, to chat about your long term health & fitness goals. If you’re a good fit for our online coaching program and you want to work 1-on-1 with me, amazing!
But also if you’re not 100% sure yet, and you’d like to continue on your own for now, I’d still be more than happy to help point you in the right direction. Because that’s really what I’m here for, to help. Click here to schedule your free call now!
Now where were we, oh yeah! You see, your metabolism does seem to slow down. But for the most part (20-60 y.o.), it remains super stable. Then as you pass 60 years old, your Total and Basal Energy Expenditure begin to decline, along with fat-free and fat mass. (1)
So why do people struggle with a slower metabolism as they get older?
Wait.. So if the research shows that for most of your life, your metabolism doesn’t seem to slow down because of age. Then why do so many people feel like their age is the reason why they struggle with a slow metabolism, weight loss and weight maintenance?
Decreases in activity and muscle mass
With age, both purposeful and non-purposeful physical activity seem to decrease (3,4). This in turn leads to a decrease in muscle mass. Knowing that muscle mass is one of the biggest factors that determine your BMR (5), you can now start to put the pieces together..
Frequent diet attempts
Additionally, many people attempt weight loss multiple times throughout their adult life, which is another factor that can impact muscle mass.
With so much focus on weight loss, not a whole lot of time gets spent eating at maintenance or even a slight surplus, which would be the optimal environment for muscle growth. On top of that, diets are often taken too far, which can result in muscle loss (6).
So not only are you burning fewer calories through movement, also the amount of calories you burn at rest decreases because of the fact that you have less muscle mass on your body.
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5 Ways To Keep Your Metabolism From Slowing Down As You Get Older
As in almost every case, the solution is rather simple. Because also here (assuming you’re an otherwise healthy individual), you are still the one who’s in charge. At the end of the day, it still comes down to you taking action and making nutrition and lifestyle changes in favor of your long term health & fitness.
I’d argue that even if your metabolism were to slow down with age, which again does not seem to be the case for most of your adult life, it would still be your responsibility to increase your chances of keeping your metabolism in a good spot by establishing and maintaining the following habits.
1. Exercise regularly
Participate in purposeful physical activity. A combination of mostly lifting weights to build muscle, with additional cardio for cardiovascular health is probably going to be your best bet. Muscle is a very energy costly tissue. Simply by having some more muscle on your body, you will be burning more calories at rest.
Exercise activity, on average, seems to only account for about 5% of your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (7). I mention this a lot in my content, but I’d advise you not to just do cardio with the thought of burning as many calories as possible. You wouldn’t read a book just to see how many pages as possible you can read either, right? Get your cardio in, but for the right reasons 🙂
Aerobic exercise is often thought of as the way to burn more calories, which it surely does in the short term. However, anaerobic exercise (like lifting weights, high intensity interval training, etc.) can lead to an increase in metabolic rate for hours on end, which is a nice bonus (8). Anaerobic exercise is also a much better approach when your goal is to build muscle which, remember, increases your metabolism in the long term.
2. Stay Active, Also Outside Of The Gym
Keeping your daily step count up is one of the easiest and most important things you can do for your health & fitness altogether. About 10.000 steps a day seems to be the ‘golden standard’ when it comes to daily step count. However, I’d say what’s most important is where you’re currently at. Are your steps around 4.000? Then don’t worry about that 10.000, simply aim to bring your daily count up to 4.500-5.000 first and just take it from there. Even a daily 10-minute walk can help you get started.
“Even a modest increase in steps per day may be associated with a lower risk of death. These results can be used to develop simple, efficient and easy-to-understand public health messages.” (9)
“Compared with taking 4000 steps per day, taking 8000 steps per day was associated with significantly lower all-cause mortality (…]), as was taking 12 000 steps per day (…]).” (10)
3. Eat Enough Protein
Keep your protein intake in check. Not only is it the most important, essential macronutrient. It’s also the most satiating macronutrient. Protein also has a Thermic Effect (calories burned through digestion) of about 20-30% (11), which is a nice bonus. Lastly, protein is needed to build and maintain muscle tissue.
As you get into the later stages of your adult life, your body becomes less efficient at using the amino acids (building blocks) it gets from breaking down protein, which is why you may want to consider increasing your protein intake to about 30-35% (12).
Click here for my protein deep dive.
4. get your 7-8 hours of sleep
I recently did a full deep dive on sleep where I pointed out that sleep deprivation can lead to loss of fat-free mass. Click here to read why you probably want to get your sleep up to that 7-8h/night minimum.
Need help improving your sleep? Click here for my top recommended sleep habits.
5. Manage stress
Stress management, a bit of a buzzword, right? Now, stress isn’t inherently bad. We only become better through stress. But when acute stress becomes chronic stress, that’s when it can become problematic. Stress hormones like Cortisol are what’s called ‘catabolic’, meaning they’re associated with the breaking down of tissue.
“Stress can induce earlier decline in muscle strength which will eventually lead to fall and fracture. Therefore, stress should be viewed as an independent risk factor for disability and other co morbid conditions.” (13)
You can’t and don’t need to remove stress from your life altogether. But when you’re constantly in what’s called a ‘Fight/Flight’ state (catabolic), it can be a good idea to offset that by doing things that can help bring you back in a ‘Rest/Digest’ state (anabolic).
What exactly you choose to do, is really up to you. Simply do more stuff you enjoy. Stuff that makes you happy. Stuff that helps you wind down and recharge both your physical and mental batteries.
“Does your metabolism actually slow down with age?”
Now you know exactly what happens to your metabolism when you get older. See, it’s really more about your nutrition and lifestyle habits than anything else. If you’ve also read a few of my other blogs, I think you start to notice a common theme here. All the stuff we talk about, even the more complicated topics, usually relates back to the most basic habits.
Before I let you go, I’d like to ask you to share this article with a friend or family member.
Tell them the good news, that it’s not really their age they need to worry about, but their habits. Motivate them to be active, both in and out of the gym. To eat enough protein, to get their 7-8 hours of sleep, and to do more stuff they enjoy.
Need more help?
- Pontzer, Herman et al. “Daily energy expenditure through the human life course.” Science (New York, N.Y.) vol. 373,6556 (2021): 808-812. doi:10.1126/science.abe5017
- Schwartz, A, and E Doucet. “Relative changes in resting energy expenditure during weight loss: a systematic review.” Obesity reviews : an official journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity vol. 11,7 (2010): 531-47. doi:10.1111/j.1467-789X.2009.00654.x
- Caspersen, C J et al. “Changes in physical activity patterns in the United States, by sex and cross-sectional age.” Medicine and science in sports and exercise vol. 32,9 (2000): 1601-9. doi:10.1097/00005768-200009000-00013
- Harris, Ann M et al. “Nonexercise movement in elderly compared with young people.” American journal of physiology. Endocrinology and metabolism vol. 292,4 (2007): E1207-12. doi:10.1152/ajpendo.00509.2006
- Zurlo, F et al. “Skeletal muscle metabolism is a major determinant of resting energy expenditure.” The Journal of clinical investigation vol. 86,5 (1990): 1423-7. doi:10.1172/JCI114857
- Durrant, M L et al. “Factors influencing the composition of the weight lost by obese patients on a reducing diet.” The British journal of nutrition vol. 44,3 (1980): 275-85. doi:10.1079/bjn19800042
- Trexler, Eric T et al. “Metabolic adaptation to weight loss: implications for the athlete.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition vol. 11,1 7. 27 Feb. 2014, doi:10.1186/1550-2783-11-7
- Knab, Amy M et al. “A 45-minute vigorous exercise bout increases metabolic rate for 14 hours.” Medicine and science in sports and exercise vol. 43,9 (2011): 1643-8. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182118891
- Jayedi, Ahmad et al. “Daily Step Count and All-Cause Mortality: A Dose-Response Meta-analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies.” Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.) vol. 52,1 (2022): 89-99. doi:10.1007/s40279-021-01536-4
- Saint-Maurice, Pedro F et al. “Association of Daily Step Count and Step Intensity With Mortality Among US Adults.” JAMA vol. 323,12 (2020): 1151-1160. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.1382
- Acheson, K J. “Influence of autonomic nervous system on nutrient-induced thermogenesis in humans.” Nutrition (Burbank, Los Angeles County, Calif.) vol. 9,4 (1993): 373-80.
- Baum, Jamie I et al. “Protein Consumption and the Elderly: What Is the Optimal Level of Intake?.” Nutrients vol. 8,6 359. 8 Jun. 2016, doi:10.3390/nu8060359
- Poornima, K N et al. “Study of the effect of stress on skeletal muscle function in geriatrics.” Journal of clinical and diagnostic research : JCDR vol. 8,1 (2014): 8-9. doi:10.7860/JCDR/2014/7014.3966