Slowing the Slowing of Metabolism, Pt. 1

Did you guys happen to catch the Stanley Cup playoffs? I think my nerves are still shot (no pun intended) and my blood pressure is still through the roof. But what a series it was, and what a final game! I am still jumping up and down for my Chicago Blackhawks!

Posted on | Bill Larson | Comments ()

Did you guys happen to catch the Stanley Cup playoffs? I think my nerves are still shot (no pun intended) and my blood pressure is still through the roof. But what a series it was, and what a final game! I am still jumping up and down for my Chicago Blackhawks!

All that being said I was a wreck the next day. What am I, getting old? Used to be I'd get 4 hours of sleep a night (10:00 pm - 2:00 am) then get up to go to work at 1 of the 3 jobs I used to have - my "day job" from 4-11 am, my internship from noon until 5:00 pm, followed by my market research job from 5:30 pm - 9:00 pm, I kept that insane schedule 5 days a week for what I called my "year of hell," and thank God I was 22 when I did it. I'd fall over today, wave a white flag and surrender if I had to keep that schedule now.

That got me thinking about metabolism and how jealous I am of people who seem to have one. Why do I feel slower now at almost 40? Why am I so tired after just watching a game on TV (albeit an exciting one)? And what is metabolism anyway?

Most of us think of metabolism as the rate at which we burn calories, but that's only part of it. According to Christopher Newgard, director of the Sarah W. Stedman Nutrition and Metabolism Center at Duke University Medical School, "Metabolism is the breakdown of metabolic fuels we have in the diet. The primary nutrients in foods can be classified as fats, proteins or carbohydrates. Metabolism is the way the cells, organs and tissues in our bodies handle those kinds of fuels. In other words, it's not just about burning up the food we eat, but about how the various nutrients from that food help us maintain a healthy body."

OK, so then why do I just feel like I have to work so hard at losing and maintaining weight while some can eat whatever, whenever, and not have it affect them at all?  So I wondered, does metabolism really slow down as we get older (er, sorry - better) or do we?

Both. The slowing of metabolism is a real thing. Mitochondria, the little energy factories that convert nutrients to power in cells, slow down with age. And that's not all. Barry Stein of Wake Forest University School of Medicine explains, "As we age, we are subject to sarcopenia - muscle wasting. Since muscle burns more energy than fat, this means the metabolic load goes down and metabolism reflects that." That is, if you do nothing about your loss of muscle with age, it will take you longer to burn off a candy bar at age 60 than at 20.

Also, when our bodies sense food is becoming nonexistent or scarce, pathways allow us to store what we need. But if it isn't one of those times and we continue to eat more, our bodies can't burn that overload of calories and we start to burn fat less efficiently. Therefore, all the calories that aren't used get converted to fat for storage - all in preparation for the famine that never comes because we keep consuming.

Then add to this the fact we tend to become less active as years go by and we can see why the inches start to gather around our waists. So how does a well-meaning, late thirty-something slow the slowing? Check back to my blog next week to find out what we can all do to slow the slowing of our metabolisms and keep burning that fat we're trying so hard to get rid of.

Blog written by Bill Larson
Bill Ivory Larson has lost a total of 175 pounds, without surgery or a special diet. In 2005, when he moved from Chicago to...