Metabolism is one of the most studied areas of weight-loss research. Scientists are continually looking for ways that will help give our resting metabolic rate a boost; all in the name of helping us lose weight. Here are some of the most ironclad strategies that you can use as you embark on your diet:
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1. Build more muscle.
The more lean muscle you have on your body, the faster your metabolism, the more calories you’ll burn, and the slimmer and trimmer you’ll look. Every pound of muscle zaps six calories a day just doing nothing, while a pound of fat burns a measly two calories. That’s because even when your muscles are at rest, they still require three times more energy than fat does for tissue maintenance and rebuilding. “The best way to keep up your metabolic rate is by building muscle through physical activity and toning,” says David Heber, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of California, Los Angeles and author of The L.A. Shape Diet. Even if you gain a pound or so as a result of building muscle, it will still help your weight-loss efforts in the long run, because muscle stokes your metabolism.
2. Get up out of your seat.
If you make phone calls for one hour at your desk, you’ll burn 15 calories, but if you do it while standing up and pacing, you’ll blast 100 calories. That’s really NEAT — as in Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis — plus ongoing research at the Mayo Clinic has found that we can burn up to an additional 800 calories a day simply by getting off our keisters and keeping our bodies moving throughout the day. Another bonus: Not only does NEAT help drop pounds, but it also may have a greater impact on longevity than jumping around in a gym. A large study from the American Cancer Society found that women who sat for more than six hours a day were 37% more likely to die during the course of the next 14 years (while the research was ongoing) than those who were sedentary less than three hours a day. This association remained virtually unchanged even when the sitters were devoted exercisers.
3. Lower your thermostat by two degrees.
When you’re a little bit cold, your body has to work to generate heat to warm itself. One recent study found that people who spent time in a chilly room boosted their calorie burn by 80%. “Cold temperatures flip on the switch that makes your body burn calories like a furnace,” says Scott Isaacs, M.D., an endocrinologist in Atlanta. And you don’t need to sit there shivering: “Turning the thermostat down just a couple degrees can help you burn 100 additional calories a day,” Dr. Isaacs says.
4. Get a good night’s sleep.
A single night of less sleep than the recommended seven to nine hours causes your resting metabolism to dip by about 5% the next day, says a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. “Sleep loss induces widespread hormonal changes that pump up the amount of ghrelin — the hormone that triggers appetite — in your body and dials down your metabolism,” explains study coauthor Christian Benedict, Ph.D. So try conking out a little earlier for a better body and mood.
5. Drink plenty of water.
Here’s a reason to obey your thirst: “When you’re dehydrated, cellular functions slow down and your metabolism starts to get poky,” says Lauren Schmitt, a registered dietitian in Los Angeles. Yes, you can slim down just by drinking up. “People who down eight cups of water daily burn 100 calories more each day than those who drink four cups or less,” says Schmitt.
6. Make breakfast a must.
Your calorie burn is at its lowest at rest. So to wake it up and get it moving, you have to stoke it with energy — breakfast. Studies also show that breakfast eaters typically consume about 100 fewer calories per day than people who skip breakfast. “Women mistakenly think they’re ‘saving’ calories for later in the day, but they actually end up overeating and gaining weight,” says registered dietitian Amy Jamieson-Petonic, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This doesn’t mean you have to eat as soon as you roll out of bed. As long as you eat within three hours of waking up, you’ll reap the metabolic benefit.
7. Add a little protein to every meal.
Eating protein at every meal, especially breakfast, is important for stoking calorie burn because it takes more energy to digest protein than it does to digest carbohydrates and fat. Plus, you need protein to build muscle. However, this does not mean that loading up on eggs and steak is the key to longterm weight-loss success. “You need carbohydrates and fat for energy, too,” Jamieson-Petonic says. You can’t live without them. One study conducted in the Netherlands found that eating a healthy amount of protein helps you drop pounds and keep them off. So what’s a healthy amount? The study authors suggest about half a gram a day for every pound you weigh. For the typical woman, that would be the equivalent of having an egg at breakfast, maybe a tuna fish sandwich for lunch, some cottage cheese as a snack, and some chicken for dinner. Just don’t overdo it. “Protein doesn’t have any superpowers,” says Felicia D. Stoler, D.C.N., an exercise physiologist. “Excess calories from protein will just get stored as fat.”