Americans are feeling tired and they are gaining “unwanted” weight at alarming rates. Maybe you are an exception. I hope so. But, if you are at least 30 years of age, you likely have gained weight “against your will”. Think back to age 21. What was your weight? Has it changed? If you are typical, it is up ½ to 1 pound (or more) for each year.
Once we reach age 21, we’ve achieved our adult height. Any weight gain represents growth that is “out” and not “up”. This sideways growth is unwanted and unhealthy.
What causes this unwanted weight gain? One of the triggers is a slowing of our metabolism. In our 20’s, health and activity levels are still great for many. But once we reach age 30, things change. Research clearly shows that beginning at age 30, our muscle metabolism actually slows. As a result, we have less energy, we are less active, fewer calories are burned, and we gain body fat.
To maintain a physique that is trim, fit and healthy, we MUST maintain a healthy muscle metabolism. Remember, metabolism is one of the 3 primary determinants of our weight (appetite, metabolism, and nutrition). If our metabolism slows, weight gain is inevitable. This can be managed. But, if we don’t have a plan, we will unintentionally slow our metabolism.
We need an intentional plan for managing our muscle metabolism to avoid sabotaging our trim physique by “doing nothing”.
Read on to see how you may be unwittingly sabotaging your metabolism…
Sabotage Strategy #1. Ignore muscle aging.
Aging is inevitable. And if you let your muscles age by default, you will see your metabolism and energy production slow progressively, each year, after age 30.
Have you ever “people watched” where several age groups were present? Think about the spontaneous activity of those at various ages.
- Ages 2-10. Children are restless, fidgety, and “all over the place”. They can’t sit still. They have so much metabolic muscle energy, they just “have” to move.
- 11-20 Youth are also very active, but they also may sit and text or play video games.
- 21-40 Young adults can still be active, but the frequency and intensity of activity is at a different level. Visiting may be more likely than sports.
- 41-70 Entering middle age is associated with more slow walks, seated vacations, and watching more TV.
- >70 Sitting and resting are considered normal and typical.
Why the change? One of the answers lies within our muscle cells. As we age, the structures within our cells known as mitochondria start to disappear. Since they are the “power plants” of our cells, the energy available in the form of ATP is less. The result is a decrease in what is known as “spontaneous physical activity”. Spontaneous activity requires no planning and is not intentional. It just happens! That is part of the fun of being young and full of energy…
Unfortunately, this spontaneous activity is a significant source of our metabolism and calorie burning. With age, here is what happens…
- After age 30, adults are 7 ½% less active with each 10 years of aging.
- Resting metabolism rate slows by 50 calories per day every 10 years of aging.
- We lose 22 lbs of muscle and other lean tissue between 30 and 80 from aging. (Muscle can burn 10 calories per pound per day, so it adds up.)
Since we do have some control, we should fight this loss of energy, muscle loss, and diminished activity (and less fun!). I suggest the following:
- Schedule activities intentionally. When we were younger, “spontaneous” physical activity like playing, household chores, tennis, hiking, skiing, etc was the norm. Now that we are “mature”, sitting and enjoying a cup of coffee is more likely spontaneous! No problem, we can offset that tendency by scheduling our activity intentionally. By using the wisdom part of our brain, we can be just as active as the 25 year olds! It just takes a plan!
- Embrace a daily fitness routine. Just 9 minutes of fitness time, becoming sweaty, short of breath, and increasing your heart rate is enough to alter your health destiny. In fact, 9 minutes daily will, on average, result in living 6.2 years longer!
- Self-monitor your 24 hour activity level with a pedometer. There is no simpler measure of your actual 24 hour activity than a good pedometer. In our office, we make “Clickers” available to our patients. These research-based simple pedometers measure every step you take. By having a number to track and compare each day, you will know if you are slowing down! Just keep your number stable as you age, and you’ll know that “old man time” has not slowed you down!
Sabotage Strategy #2. Feed your fat and not your muscle.
Nutrition matters. Americans love foods that are high in carbohydrates and fats, food types that are fantastic at “building” fat tissue, but CANNOT build more muscle. Since the natural trend is to lose around 22 lbs of muscle and lean tissues as we age, we must be proactive in building muscle to counteract the aging process. Nutrition is one of those methods.
Researchers have determined that achieving 30 grams of quality protein at a meal will actually stimulate “muscle protein synthesis”. This is the same muscle building that occurs with lifting weights, without the workout! The key is getting adequate, high quality protein (along with proper vitamins and minerals).
Since Americans usually avoid protein at breakfast and choose cereals, sweet beverages, and pastries instead, breakfast is the key meal to “fix”. Meal replacements, with adequate high quality protein, are an obvious answer. Low fat cheeses, egg whites, lean meats, and low fat yogurts are other options and may be a great addition to a meal replacement. 30 grams of protein will require some planning.
Sabotage Strategy #3. Take medications that “deactivate” you.
People often forget that medications have side effects. They like the positive effects of no sneezing, less anxiety, lower cholesterol, or lower blood pressure, but the subtle effects of fatigue, loss of motivation, and less energy can quietly sabotage the best-intentioned health-seeker.
I see these negative consequences commonly in my office, and find it discouraging. Patients have spent countless hours at the gym, they’ve counted calories, they’ve consumed energy drinks, and they’ve still had unwanted fatigue and weight gain. When they discover that the very medicines they are taking for “health” may be to blame, they are more than frustrated!
- Anti-depressants, which can certainly be helpful at times, almost always have a possible side effect of sleepiness and fatigue. Citalopram, venlafaxine, escitalopram, sertraline, and paroxetine are just a few examples of long-term medications that cause sleepiness and less activity.
- Beta-blockers, used for heart conditions and high blood pressure, reduce energy and slow the metabolism. By reducing heart rate and having effects on the brain, beta-blockers reduce spontaneous activity and actual metabolism (even during activity). One study showed the 24-hour metabolism slowed by 180 calories per day if on beta-blockers, enough to cause over 18 lbs of weight gain a year! Examples are metoprolol, atenolol, and propranolol.
- Statin medications for cholesterol. These are commonly prescribed to lower cholesterol, but they also lower CoQ10, an important factor for energy production in muscle cells. Fatigue, less activity and muscle pain are common side effects. Lovastatin, simvastatin, and pravastatin are examples. I recommend considering options to lower cholesterol and take CoQ10 supplements (50 mg twice daily) if you are on a statin or are over age 40.
- Allergy medications, even if considered “non-drowsy” can induce fatigue and sleepiness in many people. As a result, activity lessens over time, making muscle health deteriorate faster than necessary.
Aging, inactivity, poor nutrition, and medications are robbing Americans of their “metabolism potential” at alarming rates. Just “do nothing” and you will be a victim as well. There is no better stage of life to become proactive than today. Make a plan to fight muscle aging through:
- Being intentionally active every day
- Feeding your muscle great nutrition
- Avoiding medications that “deactivate” you
Proper care of your metabolism is truly essential for Optimum Health. Embrace your personal metabolism plan as your new daily routine!
For Optimum Health,
Rick Tague, M.D., M.P.H.