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Boost Metabolism and Prevent Middle-Age Weight Gain


WebMD Feature from "Good Housekeeping" Magazine

By Sari Harrar
Good Housekeeping Magazine Logo
Surprising new ways to reverse middle-aged spread.


You diet more than ever, but don’t weigh less. Exercise regularly, but still feel flabby. And your once perfectly fitting clothes now seem snug.

If you’re nodding your head in agreement, chances are you’re in the over-35 club. Like most members, you probably have a stay-slim formula (something like regular walks plus no ice cream at night) that no longer seems to be working.

“If you never had problems losing or maintaining your weight in your 20s or even in your early 30s, you may not be ready for what happens next,” warns Madelyn H. Fernstrom, Ph.D., director of the Weight Management Center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “Your metabolism slows by 5 percent each decade. Compared to age 25, you’ll burn about 100 fewer calories a day at 35 and 200 fewer at 45. Do nothing, and you could gain eight to 12 pounds a year.”

With age, muscle mass diminishes and so does your metabolic rate (the number of calories your body burns throughout the day, whether you’re sleeping, sitting, or sprinting to catch a bus). Making matters worse, many women unwittingly sabotage their calorie-burning potential with crash diets, ineffective exercise strategies, and other metabolism-busting habits.

Don’t fret yet. Although there are no magic bullets, there’s plenty you can do to boost the number of calories your body burns every day and thus maintain or even lose weight. Here, the six biggest mistakes you can make — and the research-proven metabolism fixes.

Mistake: Relying on Just Your Scale

The basic ones, which only calculate pounds, can’t tell you what percentage of your body weight is lean, calorie-burning muscle and how much is puffy, sluggish fat. “Even a woman whose weight is in the normal range can have a high percentage of body fat and a low percentage of muscle,” Fernstrom says. “And the less muscle you have, the fewer calories you’ll burn.”

The metabolic difference between a pound of muscle and a pound of fat is dramatic: Muscle burns at least three times more calories. “A woman who weighs 130 pounds and has a healthy 25 percent body fat will burn about 200 more calories per day than a 130-pound woman with about 40 percent body fat — a typical level for women at midlife,” says David C. Nieman, Dr.P.H., director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. “If the woman with more body fat doesn’t start modifying her diet or increase her exercise, she could start putting on weight really fast.”

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