Metabolism is a group of chemical reactions that converts the fuel in food into energy, which can be used for processes such as breathing, blood circulation, and movement. Your metabolism determines the number of calories you need each day.
The number of calories needed by the body to operate at rest is known as the basal metabolic rate (BMR). BMR is heavily influenced by muscle mass. The more muscle you have, the more energy you need. As a result, men tend to have higher BMR’s than women, and our metabolism typically declines as we age and lose muscle mass.
According to Mayo Clinic, BMR makes up 70 percent of the calories used each day. The remaining 30 percent comes from digesting food (thermogenesis) and from exercise. Despite the common belief that we can alter our metabolism, our BMR remains fairly consistent throughout adulthood. There are medical conditions that slow metabolism, but they are rare.
Instead of falling for miracle products that claim to speed up metabolism, turn your focus to the element you can control: exercise. Incorporating more activity into your day is the proven way to burn more calories. When you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight.
Motivation fuels your desire to make the small changes necessary to reach your long-term goals. The sources for your motivation may change and at times it can feel like it’s disappeared completely. When you hit a low point, it’s important to find ways to stay motivated.
Make a list of your positive changes.
Don’t allow frustrating weight loss and strength training plateaus make you lose focus and overlook your progress. Make a list of your positive changes. Include everything from exercising three times a week and drinking less soda to improved mood and more energy. All of these small changes matter, and when you see them all on paper, they become a source of motivation.
Pick one exercise to measure your progress.
Select an exercise that is timed or measured by repetitions and requires no equipment. Wall sit, plank, or push-ups are good examples. If you make it part of your regular routine, this one exercise can be enough to show your progress and keep you motivated. Advancing from a 15 second wall sit to 90 seconds or from 5 modified push-ups to 10 standard push-ups proves your hard work is paying off. Seeing these results can keep you from throwing in the towel when it feels like your progress has stalled.
Give yourself the day off.
If you’ve been working hard to reach your goals, but your motivation is wavering, you may need a break from your routine. Even the most committed exercisers need a break to rest, relax, and revisit goals. If your program has been strict, you might consider giving yourself a cheat day.
Goals are an important part of adopting a healthier lifestyle, because they help us measure our progress. By breaking down your goals into manageable steps, you can stay motivated and set achievable goals.
Start by thinking long term.
What would you like to accomplish this year? Maybe you want to be 30 pounds lighter, run your first half marathon, or get off blood pressure medication. Make a list of everything you can think of. You will use this list to create short-term goals.
Identify what is most important right now.
Make a short list of health priorities. What must change immediately? Maybe your doctor has said you are prehypertensive, and you need to lower your blood pressure. Perhaps you have an old injury that needs to heal and strengthen before you can start a training program. Your stress levels might be through the roof, and you need to exercise and meditate to control the effect this stress has on your health. Write down your top two priorities for the month.
Consider how your goals are related.
We often overlook how closely related our goals can be. Most changes in one area of health will also improve another area. For example, if you begin training for a half marathon and you are currently overweight, the extra calories burned through more activity will help you drop pounds. Improving your nutrition by eating more plant-based foods can also help lower cholesterol levels. If a goal like losing 50 pounds feels overwhelming, take your focus off the scale, and concentrate on other changes that will influence this long-term challenge. Setting small goals to cook more at home, switching from soda to water, or taking lessons to learn a new sport will all influence your body weight in a positive way. Weight loss then becomes more natural and won’t feel like hard work.
Set regular short-term goals.
Once you’ve identified your long-term goals and health priorities, begin to outline your short-term goals. During the first month, set two goals per week. These goals should be related to your health priorities. Choose goals that motivate you to change your daily habits but that are achievable. You don’t need to go from no exercise to hitting the gym six times a week. Getting there three times the first week might be a more achievable goal. Set two new goals each week, and then build on the goals you’ve already accomplished. For example, if you used to put three teaspoons of sugar in your morning coffee, and last week you used two teaspoons, this week try using only one teaspoon.
These minor adjustments may seem insignificant, but the gradual changes will be less of a shock and will prevent burnout. A more gradual method leads to lifestyle changes that are permanent. For example, in a month your tastebuds can adjust to having only ¼ teaspoon of sugar in your coffee, cutting 44 calories every morning. These small savings add up over time to improve your health and initiate weight loss. Of course, it will take more than changing your morning coffee to lose weight, but by tackling the small things, you will gain confidence to face bigger challenges down the road.
Regularly re-evaluate your goals.
Don’t stick with a goal that makes you miserable. If you thought you wanted to run distance races only to begin training and find you dislike every workout, set a new goal. There are plenty of activities that can keep you fit. Choose one you enjoy. The same goes for healthy eating. Not everyone has to love kale and broccoli. If you are trying to increase your vegetable intake, experiment with vegetables like cabbage, Brussels sprouts, spinach, and mustard greens until you find foods and ways of preparing them that appeal to you.
Living a healthier lifestyle isn’t always the result of drastic changes. Often the small changes we make to daily habits have the biggest impact for permanent changes. Here are a few easy ways you can make simple changes to get healthy.
Cook with olive oil.
Extra virgin olive oil contains anti-inflammatory compounds that may help protect against disease. The monounsaturated fat in olive oil has been linked to improved cholesterol and blood pressure. Select olive oil over refined cooking oils. Use it to saute vegetables and as a base for salad dressings.
Eat a salad every day.
An easy way to increase your fruit and vegetable intake is to include a healthy salad every day. Skip the boring iceberg lettuce, and include more nutrient-rich ingredients like cabbage, spinach, beans, nuts, seeds, fresh fruits, and a variety of green and red lettuces. Keep dressings light and healthy by drizzling on a little extra virgin olive oil and flavored vinegars.
Switch to water.
When you are thirsty, reach for water. Calories from beverages can cause a significant increase in your total intake, leading to weight gain. Even worse, these calories don’t fill us up, so we don’t adjust food intake to account for the extra calories. If you need flavor in your drink, try club soda with a twist of lime or infuse your water with fresh mint and cucumbers.
Drink more tea.
Tea contains polyphenols that have been found to lower the risk for heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Decaffeinated varieties can provide a substitute for water when you want something with more flavor. Sipping hot tea also has a calming effect. Flavored, unsweetened hot teas can be used as a treat to unwind at the end of the day.
Watch the snacking.
Mindless snacking is an easy way to consume more calories than you need. We often overlook the handful of crackers grabbed after lunch or the munching done while cooking dinner. These calories add up. Limit your eating to meals and portioned snacks, and avoid grazing throughout the day without tracking each bite.
Skip technologies that make life more convenient, like escalators and moving sidewalks, and choose walking to improve your health. Instead of sending coworkers emails or text messages, walk to their offices to deliver your messages.
Start the day with a 10-minute workout.
Even if you can’t get in your full workout every morning, start every day with a mini-workout. Just 10 minutes of marching in place, strength training, or yoga are enough to get the blood flowing and improve your outlook for the day.
Squeeze in 5 minutes of meditation.
Giving your brain a break and reducing stress only requires 5 minutes. Find time throughout the day to sit quietly and meditate on your goals, or repeat an affirmation.
Flexibility improves your range of motion to keep you mobile. When you are flexible, everything from walking to strength training becomes easier. Whether you stretch in your office during a work break or hit the mat for a good stretch after your workout, treat your flexibility with the same importance as other aspects of your health.
Make sleep a priority.
Adequate sleep is often the forgotten part of the weight loss equation. Sleep plays a role in the regulation of hormones that influence our hunger and stress levels. Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night. When you skimp on sleep, you can experience hunger and cravings that may have been easier to control if you’d gotten more rest.
Weight loss boils down to creating a calorie deficit. This can be accomplished by eating fewer calories or by burning more calories through physical activity. It’s often debated whether changing the diet or increasing exercise is the better method, but research supports that long term weight loss is best achieved by using a combination of both. If we rely only on dietary changes or increased exercise to lose weight, problems could arise.
To lose 1 pound, the body must rid itself of 3,500 calories. It is recommended to cut 500 calories each day to lose 1 pound per week. Burning 500 calories per day through exercise requires an intense or lengthy workout that may be too challenging for beginners. This type of exercise benefits the cardiovascular system, but when repeated day in and day out, you risk overuse injuries. Your body needs rest days to recover. A more sustainable approach is to make small changes in your diet that cut 250 calories and set an achievable goal of burning an average of 250 calories per day each week.
When there is a drastic drop in calories, we risk not supplying the body with the nutrients it needs to stay healthy. It’s recommended that women eat no fewer than 1,200 calories and that men eat no fewer than 1,800 calories. When you attempt to lose weight by slashing calories, it may be necessary to go below these minimums to produce weight loss. Not only can this lead to nutrient deficiencies, but it can leave you hungry and irritable. Make smart food choices and reduce calories with nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, and lean protein. Don’t reduce total calorie intake below the recommended minimum, and use regular exercise to burn extra calories for weight loss.
No lifestyle change
Whether you cut calories and avoid exercise or work out more than your body can handle, these are short term solutions for weight loss. You may lose a few pounds, but it will be difficult to sustain these activities and keep the weight off. Improving your fitness requires adopting a new lifestyle that is permanent, but flexible. Short-term solutions don’t support lifestyle change. Aim to find healthy foods you enjoy, and reduce portions to cut calories. Explore all types of exercise until you discover something that motivates you. When these activities become part of your daily habits, they feel less like work, and a healthy lifestyle becomes a natural part of your routine.