As time goes on and the years go by, we may notice that it becomes harder and harder to lose unwanted weight. It takes longer to drop pounds and the work needed to do so seems to become harder. This is because as we age, our metabolism gradually slows down. Metabolic function dictates how efficiently out bodies convert and utilize the energy we obtain from the food we eat. A fast metabolism causes our bodies to burn, or use, the energy we obtain from food more efficiently and completely. A slower metabolism causes our bodies to store excess energy as fat, especially if we take in more energy than our bodies can use.
We typically experience a faster metabolic rate in our younger years and in early adulthood. As we approach our 40s and beyond, our metabolic rate begins to naturally decrease. It is during these years when we typically begin to understand the role metabolism has in our lives.
What is Metabolism?
Simply put, metabolism is the process in which the cells in our bodies convert the food we eat into the energy we need to survive. This energy is used to move, breathe, think, and pretty much everything else our bodies do. The more active we are, the more energy we burn, and it is the metabolic process that governs all of this.
While we are young, our bodies demand large amounts of energy to function. Our bodies are growing and require a high metabolism to manage and use the energy needed to grow. However, as we approach middle age, our bodies begin to slow down and the energy it needs begins to decrease. This is when our metabolism slows. It is why it seems like you could eat just about everything when you were younger and not put on any weight. It is also why people tend to gain weight in their middle years – they tend to eat in the same way as they did when they were younger but their slower metabolism isn’t burning the calories like it once did. And excess calories don’t just disappear – they have to be put somewhere and that somewhere manifests into extra fat that is stored in the body.
It is important that a proper diet is maintained as we age. A diet rich in calories is what we need when we are young. However, that same calorie rich diet in middle age will likely result in weight gain in most people. Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule, but for the most part, everybody’s metabolism begins to decrease as age increases. This is why it is important to maintain a healthy diet as we age so as not to put ourselves at risk of developing serious diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and other metabolic related issues.
Metabolism and Age-Related Diseases
You might assume that having a fast metabolism late in life is an optimal way to keep unwanted weight gain from occurring. However, a fast metabolism may, in fact, not be that beneficial at all. According to this study by The Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology& Metabolism (JCEM), it is suggested that a higher metabolic rate later in life may actually predict early natural mortality. In other words, a high metabolism seems to accelerate the aging process in humans. A higher-than-average metabolic process is associated with a shorter lifespan in animals. While the evidence of this being the case in humans is limited, it is nonetheless a compelling theory that deserves further study.
As we age, we will experience a loss of muscle and bone mass. This is a result of a slowing metabolism because the energy needed to maintain muscle and bone mass simply begins to wane. Consequently, we become less and less active because we essentially become weaker over time. Physical activity becomes more taxing on our bodies as we age. Joints and muscles ache more often and recovery from injury takes longer. We begin to pay a higher price when we try to do the things that were easy when we were younger. At the end of the day, we tend to become more sedentary. Weight gain begins to become a problem when we continue eating the way we did when we were younger and our bodies needed the extra energy. And this is where metabolism really begins to become a major factor in age related diseases.
A Vicious Cycle
Insulin is a naturally occurring hormone that our pancreas secrets into our bloodstream. Insulin helps to regulate our blood sugar. Sugar is an energy dense substance that our bodies require to work properly. If we don’t get enough sugar in our diet, our blood sugar gets too low and that can cause blurred vision, loss of coordination, tingling in our extremities, and in serious cases liver failure, coma, and death. Conversely, high blood sugar levels can cause irritability, dry mouth, tiredness, recurrent infections, severe dehydration, coma, and even death. Insulin regulates blood sugar levels so that none of these issues arise and we stay healthy.
When our metabolism slows, insulin production is often affected in a way that requires us to reduce the amount of sugar that we need to consume to survive. However, if we continue to eat high levels of sugar, our body will begin to store the extra energy as fat. This leads to weight gain. This also affects metabolism and how our bodies respond to energy rich diets. As this cycle continues, the insulin our bodies produce cannot keep up with the demands placed on it and the development of diabetes becomes a very real risk.