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Metabolism and Weight Loss

Whether your metabolism is slow or fast, you can lose weight if you know what to do. People often talk about the speed of their metabolism, but do you know what “metabolism” really means?

Metabolism Explained

About 70% of the calories you burn each day go toward merely keeping you alive (called the Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR). These are things like breathing, circulating blood, maintaining body temperature (generating heat), producing new cells and recycling old ones, adjusting hormone levels, brain and nerve function, and sedentary tasks like sleeping, sitting or checking your smartphone.

About 20% is consumed in larger physical actions, like walking to the train, doing chores or exercising. This is the factor you can control with increased activity. But unless you spend the entire day in the gym, it will never rival the calorie consumption of simply existing.

And finally about 10% is used in digesting your food. This doesn’t vary much, whether you are eating “negative calorie foods” like celery that are said to take more calories to digest than they supply, or cupcakes. But that doesn’t mean you should binge on cupcakes!

Metabolism and Exercise

You can see from this that merely taking up space requires a lot of energy! This is great news for dieters, because it means that even though exercise is important for overall health, it’s more of an add-on than a requirement for weight loss. The average person burns about 2000 to 2400 calories without trips to the gym, and might burn an extra 200 calories with an intense workout session (or 8-10% more than just sitting around all day).

Furthermore, we need to avoid “double dipping” when thinking about calories burned. If you consider that we burn about 100 calories an hour via the BMR, it means that although the treadmill may say you burned 200 calories in an hour of race walking, you’d have burned 100 merely standing there, leaving you with an actual deficit of 100 for your effort — much less than the gym would like you to believe!

But hope is not lost. Your muscles are more biologically active than most other tissues in your body — meaning they burn more calories even at rest. And we’re not talking only about the muscles you can see, like biceps. You have a lot of “skeletal muscle” even if you’re not a weightlifter — these are the muscles that support your spine, hold your head upright, help you breathe and allow you to walk and move. Exercise helps you to maintain or add muscle, which over time has a marginal but useful effect on calorie burning, and helps keep your metabolism from slowing down with advancing years. So exercise is definitely a good strategy to maintain your metabolism — just don’t count on it as your primary strategy to burn off donuts.