Family cooking together

Think an expanding waistline is inevitable with age? Think again — at least until you're in your 60s.

A groundbreaking new study from researchers at Duke University has challenged everything we once thought about metabolism. A team led by Herman Pontzer, PhD, an evolutionary anthropologist at Duke University and author of the new book, "Burn: New Research Blows the Lid Off How We Really Burn Calories, Lose Weight, and Stay Healthy" found that metabolism stays steady from ages 20 to 60 and, shockingly, life changes like puberty, pregnancy, and menopause do not account for any shift.


Researchers looked at the data of more than 6,400 people in 29 countries around the world — aged 8 days to 95 years — and analyzed their total daily energy expenditures (calories burned) and found that metabolism peaks around age 1 and then slowly declines about three percent a year until age 20. Then, it stays the same until about age 60, before beginning to slowly decline again by less than one percent annually.

The findings were published in the journal Science in August.

Then Why Do So Many People Gain Weight After 40?

The study suggests a change in hormones, physical activity levels, and food consumption could be to blame. Processed foods with added sugars (breads, cereals, instant oatmeal) can add unwanted (and unknown) calories to your diet.

Do Metabolism Supplements Work?

Save your money and hit the gym instead.

"Metabolism-boosting supplements and 'superfoods' and all these diets...I wish we'd move away from that," Pontzer said. "The metabolism-boosting supplements don't work, and they really just don't. We need to get back to basics, get away from processed foods. Focus on foods that are high protein, high fiber, whole foods, and that's going to be the best way to manage your weight."

Do Men Have Higher Metabolisms Than Women?

Pontzer says that men do tend to burn more calories than women because men tend to be bigger and carry more muscle and less fat.

"But after you account for that difference in size and fat percentage, men and women's metabolism are the same, actually," he said. "There's nothing special about men's metabolism that makes them faster. It's just that they tend to be bigger, and we know that bigger people, you've got more cells cooking along, you're going to burn more calories just by being bigger."

Is There Anything I Can Do to Stop Weight Gain in Middle Age?

Pontzer says it's all about the diet. In fact, he believes it's more important than exercising.

"Exercise for health is super important, but diet is your best tool for weight loss, for weight management," Pontzer said. "In a way, [these findings are] really empowering because it says there's not some invisible force that's forcing you to gain weight. Instead, we can take control of our diet, focus on the calories that we're taking in and take control of our weight that way."

Q: I end up overeating because it makes me feel better and I never really get full. I'd like to lose weight but this makes it hard. Any suggestions?

A: Being persistently hungry can cause big trouble. So can overeating for comfort/pleasure. These two behaviors, say researchers from Baylor University's Children's Nutrition Research Center, are controlled deep within your brain by serotonin-producing neurons, but operate separately from each other — one in the hypothalamus, the other in the midbrain. They both can, however, end up fueling poor nutritional choices and obesity.

Eating for Hunger

When hunger is your motive for eating, the question is: "Does your body know when you've had enough?" Well, if you are overweight, obese or have diabetes you may develop leptin resistance and your "I am full" hormone, leptin, can't do its job. The hormone's signal to your hypothalamus is dampened, and you keep eating.

Keep Reading Show less
x