When it comes to health and fitness, the term metabolic age is very common. And often, how old you are is not usually a reflection of your fitness. Sometimes you may be 30, but when it comes to how fit you are, it turns out you are about 35.
This is where your metabolic age comes in. But what does metabolic age mean, and what does it mean for your health? We explore the metabolic age meaning, how to calculate it, and its implication on your health.
What Is Metabolic Age?
To properly understand metabolic rate age, you need to know what is meant by basal metabolic rate. Your basal metabolic rate refers to the number of calories you burn while at rest when your digestive system is inactive (2). This is the amount of energy your body needs to perform its basal life-sustaining functions.
The body needs energy to perform essential functions such as breathing, circulation, and neurological functions. Your BMR is affected by age, gender, body size, muscle mass, genetics, and physical activity.
Metabolic age refers to how your basal metabolic rate compares to the average BMR of individuals the same age as you in your general population (8). It is used to give insight into your general state of health and fitness. But just like your basal metabolic rate and body mass index (BMI), it cannot be used as a single measure of your fitness level or state of health.
Metabolic age helps you understand how fit you are in a way you can’t see by just looking into the mirror. If you hop onto a scale, you can tell how much you weigh and how many pounds you should lose. But, you simply cannot answer the question ‘how healthy am I?’
It is an indicator of how hardworking your body’s metabolism is. And as you grow older, your body’s metabolism tends to slow down. Therefore, your BMR reduces and may contribute to your weight gain even when you take the same diet as before.
Once you understand your metabolic rate age, the next step will be to calculate it. You calculate your metabolic age by comparing your BMR to your chronological age group’s average BMR.
It is possible to use your age, sex, height, and weight to estimate your BMR but calculating your metabolic age is more complex. Unlike your BMR calculation, you can not calculate your metabolic age at home.
Scientists compared waist circumference, blood pressure, and dietary intake to metabolic age (9) in a recent study. The experts used a special scale that measures body composition and software that uses those measures to estimate BMR and metabolic age. d.
To get your metabolic age, a comparison of data is necessary. If you are interested in determining your metabolic age, it is best to visit your dietitian, doctor, or fitness expert.
If your metabolic age is higher than that of your real age, you may want to improve your metabolic rate. Increasing your exercise will help you build lean muscle mass and increase your BMR. Consequently, this will impact your metabolic age.
Remember, the fitter and healthier you are, the lower your metabolic age will be. If you are 30 years old and your metabolic age happens to be 25, there’s nothing to worry about. However, if you are 30 and your metabolic age is 35, you may need to adjust your diet and change your fitness habits as it is not a great thing.
Were it possible, we would all like to have the metabolism we did at 18, but that’s just not how aging works. If you are wondering, ‘why is my metabolic age higher than my actual age?’, it could be because you are getting a few things wrong. Several factors influence your metabolism and metabolic age (8).
The body needs energy (in the form of calories) to function properly. Many individuals trying to lose weight cut their calorie consumption such that it falls way below the required levels. You may think that lowering your calorie consumption and increasing your exercise would help you lose weight but this can be counterproductive if overdone.
When calorie consumption is too low, the body enters starvation or conservation mode. Your metabolism slows down to compensate for reducing the number of calories you are taking in. The body reduces calorie expenditure to prevent death from starvation (5).
So be mindful of your calorie consumption. Make sure that the number of calories you consume does not fall too low such that it compromises your body’s functioning. Always consult a dietitian or doctor before you switch to very low-calorie diets.
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Sleep plays an important role when it comes to metabolism. Research increasingly shows that sleep deprivation can alter glucose metabolism and hormones that regulate appetite (decreased leptin levels and increased ghrelin levels) over time. Sleep loss is also linked to an increased risk of weight gain and diabetes (6).
Getting enough sleep is essential for an efficiently functioning metabolic system. To avoid metabolic dysregulation due to sleep loss, try to sleep for about 8 hours a night. In case you are having trouble sleeping, stretch before going to bed.
Body composition refers to the proportions of fat and fat-free mass in the body (3). Your body composition describes the percentages of muscle, fat, water, and bone in your body. Healthy body composition should include a higher percentage of non-fat mass and a lower percentage of fats, with specific healthy ranges for males and females.
Body composition affects your metabolism—the higher your metabolism, the more calories your body burns. A higher metabolism is beneficial to weight loss and your overall weight.
The body requires more energy to maintain muscle compared to fat. The more muscle tissue a person has, the more calories are burned at rest. Therefore having a higher percentage of lean tissue can increase your metabolism.
Unlike fat tissue, lean tissue is metabolically active. To increase your basal metabolic rate and decrease your metabolic age you should strive to build more muscle. Weight lifting is a great way to build muscle and reduce the percentage of your body fat.
Finding the balance between nutrition and exercise is also an essential part of the metabolic puzzle. Exercise is needed to burn calories. Proper nutrition, on the other hand, provides the energy and nutrients we need to function properly.
It is crucial to find the right balance between nutrition and exercise. Ensure you consume enough calories but avoid the consumption of extra “empty” calories found in sodas, energy drinks, and ultra-processed foods. Also, ensure that you remain physically active to burn calories and build muscle.
You might have had your metabolic age calculated, and you do not like the results. If you are 35 but your metabolic age is 40, what next? Here are a few tips to help you achieve a lower metabolic age:
Eat More Protein
If you have been shying away from eating beef or eggs, it is time to fix that. Protein has many health benefits. Additionally, eating protein helps you build lean muscle.
Eating protein can also help speed up your metabolic rate. It causes the highest rise in the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF). It increases your metabolic rate by about 15 to 30% compared to 0 to 3% for fat and 5 to 10% for carbohydrates (1).
Make sure you include protein in each of your meals. Low-fat milk, greek yogurt, skinless poultry, pork, salmon, tuna, other fish, and legumes such as peas, beans, and lentils are good sources of lean protein.
If you want to reduce your metabolic age, make getting adequate and quality sleep a priority. Sleep affects your metabolism and more so can lead to weight gain over time. Try to sleep 7-9 hours each night.
Try going to bed at the same time each night. Sleep in a dark and cool room. Schedule your meals so that they are at least 3 to 4 hours before you sleep.
Also, avoid drinking alcohol just before bedtime. And if you are experiencing sleep difficulty, talk to your general practitioner about it.
Build Fat-Free Mass
Metabolism is directly affected by fat-free mass. Body fat uses up less energy. On the other hand, lean muscle is more metabolically active than fat and thus expends more energy (4). Even at rest, muscle burns more calories.
If comparing two individuals with all variables constant, the one with more lean muscle will have a higher basal metabolic rate than the person with more body fat. Therefore, the first individual with more lean muscle will have a lower metabolic age. So, to increase your metabolic age, you need to lose that fat and build more muscle.
One of the best ways to build fat-free mass is strength training, also known as weight training. Lifting weights is essential for maintaining muscle mass and preventing loss as a result of aging or dieting. This helps increase your resting metabolic rate and eventually helps improve your metabolic age.
Strength training also helps increase afterburn, meaning hours after your workout, you burn more calories. It changes your body composition and helps you lose fat, making you stronger and healthier. If you have not explored weight training yet, talk to your trainer about trying it out.
It is easier for you to grab a bottle of soda than a bottle of water, even though you are aware soda contains many empty calories. Replacing soda or an energy drink with water reduces your calorie intake.
Drinking water can temporarily increase your metabolism, therefore, increasing calorie burning. Research shows that drinking 500mls of water can boost metabolism by about 15 to 30% for about 30 to 40 minutes (7). So always carry a bottle of water with you everywhere you go.
Increase Your Physical Activity
Increasing your physical activity is part of adopting a healthier lifestyle. Exercising increases the number of calories you burn and helps you avoid a metabolic slowdown. Exercising regularly also increases your resting metabolic rate, meaning you burn more calories at rest.
Note that being physically active is not all about visiting the gym. Try increasing your physical activity in the following ways:
- Take the stairs instead of the escalator or the elevator.
- Reduce the time you spend sitting.
- Take a walk around the block after your dinner.
- Walk to the grocery store instead of driving there.
- Bike ride several times a week.
- Try new physical activities such as playing tennis, hiking, or rock climbing.
- Get off the bus one stop before your destination and walk.
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The best way to lower your metabolic age is to adopt healthy habits that include making changes to your diet. You may find that you consume many refined carbs that include white bread, white rice, breakfast cereals.
Simple carbs have been stripped of all fiber and nutrients. They also often contain added sugars. These are relatively easy for the body to digest.
On the other hand, complex carbs are rich in fiber, bran, and nutrients. The complex, whole foods require more energy to break down, which will help prevent a metabolic slowdown. This, in turn, will help improve your metabolic age.
Go for whole-grain carbs that are more nutritious and healthier. Replace all those simple carbs with complex carbs such as brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, whole-grain barley, whole wheat products, and starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes.
Metabolic age is an important indicator of your level of fitness. Your metabolic age may not always be a reflection of your actual age. Sometimes it may be higher than that of people from your chronological age.
If you are not happy about your metabolic age, try adopting healthier lifestyle habits. Try to exercise more, eat healthy whole foods and get plenty of quality. And whenever you have concerns about your BMR, always visit your doctor.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- A high-protein diet for reducing body fat: mechanisms and possible caveats (2014, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Basal Metabolic Rate (2016, sciencedirect.com)
- Body Composition (n.d, sciencedirect.com)
- Exercise, Abdominal Obesity, Skeletal Muscle, and Metabolic Risk: Evidence for a Dose Response (2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Reducing Calorie Intake May Not Help You Lose Body Weight (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Sleep and Metabolism: An Overview (2010, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Water-Induced Thermogenesis (2003, academic.oup.com)
- What is Metabolic Age? (2020, nfpt.com)
- Younger Relative Metabolic Age Is Associated with a More Favorable Body Composition and Plant-based Dietary Pattern (P21-038-19) (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)