Boots WebMD Partners in Health
Return To Boots

Diet health centre

Don't blame your metabolism - boost it!

By
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

We all have a skinny friend who feeds her face with pizza and chocolate, knocks back sugary fizzy drinks and still doesn't put on a pound. Whereas some of us just have to look at a tub of cottage-cheese and it attaches itself firmly to our thighs.

Skinny friend puts her luck down to a fast metabolism. Does that mean we have a slow metabolism? And if so can we PLEASE get it to speed up a bit!

It's not always as simple as that but take heart there are things you can do to boost your metabolism and burn more calories.

What is metabolism?

"Metabolism is the term for the chemical processes that occur inside the body to keep us alive and our organs working properly," says registered dietitian Sioned Quirke.

She goes on: "These chemical processes require energy. The minimum amount of energy your body needs to carry out these chemical processes is called the basal metabolic rate (BMR)."

Your BMR is the rate at which you burn calories and therefore affects how quickly you put on weight or lose it.

What factors affect metabolism?

People burn calories at different rates depending on a number of factors.

"There's a genetic component," says Dr Jane Naufahu, lecturer in human nutrition and performance at the University of Westminster.

"There are variables in term of gender, age and lean body mass."

Age

You may have been as thin as a pick in your teens but with age our metabolism slows so if we eat the same amount as we did in our youth we'll put on weight.

In fact as our BMR drops by 5% each decade after the age of 40.

"Our BMR's tend to decrease with age as we tend to lose muscle mass," says Sioned.

Sex

Men usually have a faster metabolism (BMR) than women do. They tend to burn more calories at rest than women. That's why on diets men and women have different calorie allowances. It's down to the fact that men generally have more muscle and muscle burns more calories than fat.

"They tend to have more lean mass and a bigger body size so they need more energy to power it," says Dr Naufahu.

Weight and muscle

Similarly heavier people tend to have a higher metabolic rate than lighter people as their bodies are bigger and need more energy or calories to keep it running.

It's also the case that the more body muscle you have the faster your metabolism. It's estimated a pound (lb) of muscle burns around 6 calories a day whereas a pound (lb) of fat only burns 2 calories.

Genes

Unfair as it seems some people simply burn calories quicker than others. The hereditary aspect of metabolism is not fully understood.

It may be to do with your body composition.

"You are born with a certain type of body type, you may be naturally lean with low body mass or you may be more portly," says Dr Naufahu.

"To a certain extent we do inherit our metabolic rate from our parents," according to Miguel Toribio-Mateas, chairman of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy.

Occasionally people have a defect in their thyroid glands, which slows down their metabolism.

"Reduced BMR could be modified by changes in endocrine function including levels of cortisol, growth hormone and testosterone," says dietitian Perryn Carroll.

Diet and weight loss newsletter

Weight loss help delivered to your inbox.
Sign Up

Popular slideshows & tools on BootsWebMD

woman_holding_head_in_pain
How to help headache pain
rash on skin
Top eczema triggers to avoid
boost your metabolism
Foods to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol
period_questions_answered
Tips to support digestive health
woman looking at pregnancy test
Is your body ready for pregnancy?
sick child
Dos and don'ts for childhood eczema
girl_sneezing_into_tissue
Treating your child's cold or fever
bucket with cleaning supplies in it
Cleaning and organising tips
adult man contemplating
When illness makes it hard to eat
woman holding stomach
Understand this common condition
cold sore
What you need to know