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Boost Metabolism and Prevent Middle-Age Weight Gain

The Fix: Get an Expert to Weigh In

Visit your local gym (or a fitness center affiliated with a hospital) and ask for a body-fat reading. “Find out whether the person who measures you has been trained,” advises Fernstrom. People who have been certified by the American College of Sports Medicine or who are exercise physiologists should have training in body-fat analysis. A good way to check their accuracy: “At your first visit, get two measurements within minutes of each other by the same person to see how much variation there is. A little, like 2 to 3 percent, is OK,” says Fernstrom. To track your progress, get rechecked roughly every three months.

You can eyeball your fat level at home, too. “If you’ve got a poochy tummy or can pinch an inch or more of fat at your waistline or upper arm, you’re probably carrying more body fat than you should,” Fernstrom notes.

“Anything over 30 percent should be a wake-up call to make some real changes,” she adds.

Mistake: Crash Dieting

When you slash too many calories, you send your body into starvation mode. “A flat-out fast will drop the average woman’s metabolic rate by at least 25 percent,” says Nieman. “If you’re on a very-low-cal regimen, in the 400- to 800-calorie range, it falls by 15 to 20 percent.” Eating fewer than 900 calories a day also prompts your body to burn desirable muscle tissue as well as fat, which slows your metabolic rate even more.

The Fix: Shed Pounds S-L-O-W-L-Y

“If you stay within the 1,200- to 1,500-calorie range, you can still slim down — and you’ll lower your metabolic rate only by about 5 percent,” explains Nieman. “What’s more, about 90 percent of the weight you lose will be fat.”

Regardless of which type of diet plan you choose, be sure to include lots of lean protein, such as chicken, fish, or lean beef. “Protein contains leucine, an amino acid that seems to protect you from muscle loss during a diet,” says Stuart M. Phillips, Ph.D., associate professor of kinesiology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Skim milk can help even more: Phillips and his team tracked 56 men who pumped iron five days a week for three months and found that those who downed two cups of fat-free milk soon after their workout built more muscle — and lost more flab — than those who drank soy milk or a flavored-carbohydrate drink. “We have evidence that the benefit is very similar for women,” Phillips notes. “They don’t put on as much muscle as men, but they lose more fat.”

Mistake: Only Doing Cardio

If you never challenge your muscles with strength-training moves, you’ll lose up to five pounds of muscle each decade, reports Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA. Cardiovascular exercise (like walking, biking, swimming, or sweating through an aerobics class) is great for your health, but it isn’t strenuous enough to build or even preserve much muscle mass. “Only strength training creates the microscopic tears that prompt muscles to rebuild themselves,” explains Phillips. “Lifting weights promotes a continual remodeling of muscle tissue. The process burns a lot of calories.”

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