Metabolism in Middle Age: What it is and why it matters



We recently had an LWSL & Co. insider, Naomi, write in asking for guidance on how to feel (and look) good in her own skin, now that she is in the middle part of her life. As women, we are so much more than our homes and who we are to our loved ones, and Naomi’s question is a stark reminder of how critical it is that we take care of ourselves. What’s even more important is that our plan to do so is centered around what is best for where we are at this stage in our lives. This post explores more deeply the truth about metabolism in middle age. 

If you have been on the internet or social media at all in the last few years, you have likely seen something about boosting your metabolism. And if you’ve been wondering what the heck that means, or you have a vague understanding— metabolism is just a fancy word for the basic and necessary life function of your body turning what you consume into energy (or fat which is just energy stored for later).

Our metabolism is working all the time to turn our food into fuel because we are burning that fuel—literally all the time—even when we do absolutely nothing (yes, you burn calories when you are sleeping, watching TV, or just sitting reading a book…you burn calories by thinking and breathing too).

The amount of calories you burn for basic life function is what is referred to as your basal metabolic rate (which is just a fancy phrase for how many calories your body burns just to keep you alive if you never moved). 

As we age though, our basal metabolic rate changes and we need less fuel to keep us going (exactly when this happens is different for everyone so it could be your 30s, 40s, 50s, or 60s). If you remember being able to eat literally anything when you were in your teens, this is why. So as we age, our metabolism slows and if our appetites don’t decrease (or if we routinely chose to ignore our “hey I’m full” signals) our bodies will begin to store that excess fuel that we continue to consume as fat for later (in case we ever experience a shortage of food). It’s actually pretty fascinating that all of that is going on as we go about our daily lives when you stop to think about it.

But it’s also annoying because this is one thing that can lead to excess weight gain and for many of us, that is a big deal as excess weight can cause a whole host of other health issues.

Simultaneously, as we age, our muscles also start to deteriorate which also starts to slow down our metabolism…because our muscle is the driving force in the machine (our body) that helps us get around and do all the things we need to do in a day’s time.

When that muscle starts deteriorating, our natural body systems don’t need to work quite as hard to feed those muscles. This is why you will notice that as people age significantly, they eat less and less but also often have less energy (and drive) to do things. These are natural and normal processes…it happens to everyone…but that doesn’t mean that there is no hope—by understanding our bodies and how they work, we can take actions (now) to maintain our comfort and happiness throughout these processes.

So what to do with a slowing metabolism? Well, the answer definitely isn’t to eat less (and then be HANGRY)…but, there are a few things you can do, right now.

Switch to a low-carb lifestyle.

Maybe you’re thinking, oh no, not another fad diet. But hold on for a second, this isn’t about following a fad diet. And no one is saying that carbs are the devil. But honestly, as we age our dietary needs change, and we have to change with them. Carbs are one source of energy that our bodies burn and it is the quickest and easiest source to burn. But our bodies also burn fat.

This isn’t news, nutrition scientists have known this for a really long time. and low-carb diets are prescribed by doctors all the time to lower the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and many other health issues. Low carb diets get a bad rap because they aren’t generally followed the way they are supposed to and people tend to carb load which causes a lot of confusion for our metabolism (remember that base instinct to store carbs away for later when we consume an excess?).

When switching to a low-carb lifestyle it can be confusing to know where to begin because there are SO many options out there, and if you’re interested, read more about the basics of how Ruth made that switch here

Before making this or any health change you should (of course) consult with your physician as there are some health conditions that require special diet considerations and are made worse by switching to a low-carb lifestyle. Always talk to your doctor before making sudden changes like this.

Add strength training to your routine!

Strength training is a simple addition to your daily routine that you can do from the comfort of your home, and science suggests strength training burns fat better than cardio. Doesn’t that sound amazing? Never having to run on the treadmill again?

If you feel skeptical and don’t want to go out and purchase a gym membership, or a weight bench, don’t be. While adding weight helps build muscle, you can get started with just your body weight. There are plenty of apps on iOS and Android devices that can create routines for you (like Home Workout – No Equipment, Sweat, Seven, and FitBod—this last one actually allows you to incorporate equipment at a later date if you decide to buy it).

Building muscle boosts your metabolism because remember the muscles are the parts of your body that do all the work, and therefore your body needs to burn more fuel, the more muscle you have. Building muscle is a long-term benefit of staying active and keeping your basal metabolic rate elevated. Now, all of us may not want to look like bodybuilders either, so doing body or low weight exercises is a good way to make sure that you build muscle without bulking up.

Make sure you are getting enough sleep.

Sleep is crucial to maintaining a healthy bodily ecosystem and to keeping our metabolism functioning properly. Unfortunately, since most of us are on our phones, watching TV, or going about our business in brightly lit homes leading up to bedtime, most of us experience sleep deprivation or insomnia at some point in our lives. Studies show that there is a strong correlation between poor sleep hygiene and “metabolic disorders, weight gain, and an increased risk of obesity and other chronic health conditions.”

And what’s even worse, sleep deprivation disrupts our “I’m hungry” and “I’m full” hormone signals, so just not getting enough sleep can cause us to eat more thank we need. So next time you’re up late and get a craving for that bowl of cereal—that is likely the result of sleep deprivation, not true hunger.

While it may seem impossible, resetting your sleep routine is pretty easy! To get started, limit the bright light and screen time 30 minutes before bed. Pick a bedtime, preferably one that will allow you at least 7 hours of sleep. And finally, be consistent. It can be easy to allow yourself to stay up late and watch that show, or to want to stay up really late on the weekends, but it is really important to be consistent when developing a habit. At least for a little while, prioritize your sleep.

Understanding your bodily functions removes the mystery from completely normal processes like metabolism, and it also empowers us to work within those functions to create the lives we love without doing things like drinking nothing but celery juice (yuck). Most importantly, you have to find what works for you and your goals. That is the only way to ensure your long-term success when it comes to being comfortable in your own skin.