Talking wistfully about your younger days—when it seemed like you didn't gain an ounce, no matter how much you ate and how little you exercised—is something many of us do as we age. And we often do it with a chuckle, a shake of the head, and regret for not appreciating our high metabolism at the time.
But a recently published study in the research journal Science—involving more than 6,400 people from 29 countries, ages 8 days to 95 years—rebuts that conventional metabolism wisdom.
"We always assumed that metabolism may slow down after age 40, especially in women, due to changes associated with menopause and perimenopause," notes Dr. Deena Adimoolam, a weight management specialist at Summit Health. "The data from this study suggests metabolism is very high in early childhood, declines slowly to adult levels by age 20, remains stable between ages 20 and 60, and declines steadily after age 60."
Many in the medical community agree that this study could shift the science of human physiology. It highlights the critical importance of infant nutrition due to the increasing energy demands of growing babies. The study also impacts such things as determining the right drug doses for children and older people.
But what it doesn't do is change how people should approach their personal health. "This study only helps us to tell our patients that they need to focus on long-term healthy lifestyle changes via diet and exercise to meet their goals," says Dr. Adimoolam, pointing to the fact that weight loss and obesity are complex and go far beyond metabolism.
"If you are concerned about meeting your weight loss goals, speak with your doctor," says Dr. Adimoolam. "They will evaluate you for secondary causes for weight gain or difficulty with weight loss via nutrition analysis, evaluation for underlying mood or eating disorders, and hormonal causes."
Don't look for quick fixes, she warns. "Supplements that 'boost' your metabolism do more harm than good." Many doctors also warn against fads such as extreme low-carb, high-fat diets. Focusing on a diet that emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean meats is much more sustainable.
When it comes to physical activity, keep that same mindset of sustainability. Find an activity or sport you enjoy doing so that exercise isn't a chore. Weight training and cardio can be helpful parts of a fitness routine, especially as you grow older.
If there's one key thing to learn from the results of this study, it's that leading an active, nutritionally balanced lifestyle throughout your life is the most important step to take when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight.