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Metabolism Hacks: Tap into Your Calorie-Burning Power

Muscles boost your metabolism (and your ability to burn calories).

Many women avoid weight training because they're afraid of bulking up. But a little heavy lifting is actually your number-one key to calorie burn: The more lean muscle you have on your body, the faster your metabolism, the more calories you'll burn, and the slimmer and trimmer you'll look. That's because even when your muscles are at rest, they still require three times more energy than fat for tissue maintenance and rebuilding. "The only way to keep up your metabolic rate is by building muscle through physical activity and strength-training," says David Heber, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of California — Los Angeles and author of The L.A. Shape Diet. Studies suggest that women can naturally lose up to 15 percent of their muscle mass before age 50. Women who weight-train three days a week, on the other hand, can gain nearly three pounds of fat-free muscle mass in six months. For the optimum metabolic burn, experts suggest getting at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular activity most days of the week and doing strength training twice a week. This doesn't mean you have to join a gym, or even that you have to do a straight half-hour of cardio. You can do weight-bearing exercises like push-ups and sit-ups and use inexpensive elastic resistance bands at home. Even everyday activities like walking, stepping onto the stairs (instead of the elevator), and gardening count toward your 30 minutes of aerobic exercise. "You can even squeeze in activity in 10-minute spurts throughout the day to see benefits," Heber says.

Chances are, you don't have a medical condition that's slowing your metabolism.

Some women do suffer from hypothyroidism (or underactive thyroid disease), a condition that meddles with all of the chemical reactions in your body, including your metabolism, and can lead to weight gain, among other symptoms. Less than 12 percent of the population has the full-blown disorder, though. A slower metabolism and subsequent weight gain can also be symptoms of Cushing's disease, a condition that occurs when your body produces too much of the stress hormone cortisol — and which affects 10 to 15 million people in the United States each year. It is true that certain medications for depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses can put the brakes on your metabolic rate, but experts stress that for the vast majority of us, it's our lifestyle choices — how much we eat, how little we move — that are to blame for turtle-like metabolisms and unwanted pounds.

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