You’ve probably heard your metabolism changes with age, but exactly what does that mean? Your metabolism affects your weight, your energy levels and your alcohol tolerance. So, how can you adjust your lifestyle to stay healthy over time?
Why Your Metabolism Slows Down
Metabolism refers to the processes your body uses to convert calories from food into energy. Your body uses the majority of this energy just to stay alive — to move, breathe, think, circulate blood, digest food, moderate body temperature and support your organs. Calories your body doesn’t use turn into fat.
Your body changes as you get older, and it becomes less efficient at processing food and alcohol. Starting in your mid-20s, your basal metabolic rate — the number of calories required to keep your body functioning — decreases slowly with age. You begin to lose lean muscle mass and burn fewer calories. Thus, you must exercise more and consume fewer calories to maintain the same weight.
Although you need less food as you age, you might find it harder to feel full. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) say a chemical called leptin helps your brain tell you when to stop eating. This natural appetite suppressant decreases with age.
Age also changes the way you process glucose, the sugar your body makes from food and converts into energy. These changes increase your risk of developing diabetes, a condition that raises your likelihood of heart disease, blindness and other health problems.
Most people can maintain a healthy weight with some simple lifestyle changes. Even though your metabolism isn’t what it used to be, you can ward off weight gain and weight-related health problems with some tips.
1. Consuming the Right Calories
How many calories you need each day depends on several factors, including your gender, height, weight, physical activity levels and age.
According to the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the average moderately active woman needs about 2,000 calories a day between ages 26 and 50 and about 1,800 calories after age 51. The average moderately active man needs 2,600 calories between ages 31 and 45, 2,400 calories between ages 46 and 65 and 2,200 calories after age 66. Sedentary men and women need about 200 fewer calories than their more active counterparts.
To get the most nutrients from those calories, it’s important to eat balanced meals. Talk to your doctor about the number of calories you should be consuming.
2. Exercising and Building Lean Muscle
Changes in metabolism play a role in age-related weight gain, as do changes in your activity level. Even though finding time to exercise is difficult, physical activity is still key to maintaining a healthy weight.
Muscle burns more calories than fat does, so building muscle can give your metabolism a slight boost. However, muscles burn very few calories when they’re not actively used. Include strength-training exercises in your workout, alongside activities that get your heart rate up.
Talk to your doctor before beginning a new workout, especially if you have heart problems, back pain, arthritis or any condition that could make certain exercises unsafe.
3. Drinking in Moderation
If you drink alcohol, you might have already noticed your “tolerance” decreasing with age. You feel the effects more rapidly and strongly than you once did and are more likely to have a hangover. That’s because your body becomes less efficient at processing alcohol, according to the NIH.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alcohol should be only consumed in moderation: up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. One alcoholic beverage amounts to 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor. High-risk drinking for women is four or more drinks on any day or eight or more drinks per week. For men, it’s five or more drinks on any day or 15 or more drinks per week.
Because heavy drinking can worsen many age-related health conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart failure, liver problems and memory problems, the NIH recommends adults over age 65 never have more than three drinks on a given day or seven drinks in one week. Also, keep in mind alcoholic beverages tend to be high in calories, so drinking can also contribute to weight gain. If you drink, factor those calories into your diet and exercise planning.
Healthy at Any Age
Just because your metabolism changes with age doesn’t mean you have to count calories or you can’t occasionally indulge in a decadent dessert or a glass of wine. You just need to find the right balance of healthy eating and physical activity to maintain a healthy weight for your unique body.
If you’ve noticed your body changing as you age, discuss any questions or concerns you have with a doctor.