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Boost Metabolism and Prevent Middle-Age Weight Gain

The Fix: Pump Iron

When women at the South Shore YMCA strength trained for 20 minutes twice a week for 10 weeks, they added 2.6 pounds of calorie-hungry lean muscle and lost 4.6 pounds of body fat, which other research shows is likely to boost metabolic rate by 7 percent, notes Westcott.

You should aim for about 40 to 60 minutes of strength training a week. Use the weight room at your local gym, or exercise with dumbbells or resistance bands at home. If you’ve never pumped iron before, sign up for a few sessions with a personal trainer. That way, you’ll learn how to get the most out of each move — without risking injury. And once you’ve been at it for a while, you’ll need to increase the weight or resistance you’re using. “Often, women don’t push themselves hard enough because they’re afraid they’ll bulk up with heavier weights,” notes Fernstrom. “But that kind of muscle gain is unlikely because females don’t have enough testosterone in their bodies to make muscles like men do.”

Mistake: Sticking to the Same Exercises

If you always walk the same route, swim laps at one speed, or even have a single strength-training routine, your muscles adapt and become so efficient that they burn fewer calories while you work out, says Fernstrom. How to tell when it’s time for a change? If any of the following is true: You’re not sweating as much at the end of your routine; you don’t feel that tired after working out; or you’re gaining weight even though you aren’t eating more or exercising less.

The Fix: Switch It Up

Give your metabolic rate a big boost by adding a few short, fast-paced bursts of speed to your regular walking, biking, swimming, or other aerobic routine. Researchers at the University of Guelph in Ontario found that women who did interval workouts on stationary bikes for two weeks burned 36 percent more fat when they completed a continuous ride afterward. The reason: “More muscle fibers got worked during those high-intensity intervals,” says Martin Gibala, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at McMaster University. “When you push hard in short bursts, it reactivates nerve fibers, builds new capillaries, and forces your body to repair the muscle. All of that burns a tremendous amount of calories — long after you’ve completed your session.

The best news: “You don’t have to be an elite athlete to get the benefits of intervals,” explains Gibala. “If you’re a walker, pick up the pace for 20 or 30 seconds, then slow down to your usual pace for a minute or two. Then do it again. Start small, with one, two, or three intervals in your walk. As you grow stronger, add more intervals, and make them longer and more intense.”

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