Does Age Affect BMR?

New research says no–or not until we’re 60

Thinking those extra pounds might be caused by age or life stage? Think again.

New research shows that our basal metabolic rate actually stays relatively steady between our twenties up until about age 60, when it starts to decline by less than one percent each year, as reported in Science.

Researchers at Duke University studied 6,400 people ages eight days to 95 years. They covered 29 countries and accounted for differences like body size, gender, and muscle to fat ratios. Naturally, there are shifts in metabolism in the early years, but once we hit 20, levels of basal expenditure stabilize, even accounting for things like pregnancy and menopause.

This is the first study of this size, making its findings important. But if you’re thinking, ‘so what?’ we’ve got news for you. If you’ve been blaming a slow metabolism for gaining weight… well… the jig is up.

“People will say, 'Well, when I hit 30 years old, my metabolism fell apart,' says Professor Herman Pontzer, who led the study, in an article for Yahoo News. “We don't see any evidence for that, actually.”

What’s Causing Weight Gain

Pontzer looked at how our bodies burn energy and found that shifts in body weight don’t really have much to do with metabolism. Instead, our cells are actually changing as we age, with a dip in BMR happening around age 63.

The research team analyzed average total daily energy expenditures, which refers to the calories we burn every day simply to live (even at rest). We’re talking about breathing, getting into bed, pouring our coffee, digestion, even thinking. Many people think of this as metabolism, but strictly speaking, that term refers to any chemical process in the body. Your Basal Metabolic Rate refers to the amount of energy we use to live each day.

But if our metabolism isn’t slowing down during a good chunk of our adult years, why do many of us become heavier once we move out of our teens?

It’s a combination of factors and how they each influence each other. For example, eating and exercise habits, changes in sleep patterns, illness, stress, and where you live, can all impact how your body changes.

So we can’t blame weight gain on our metabolism. But, we can still boost our metabolic rate to up the number of calories we burn each day, and, consequently, increase weight loss.

Tips to Boost BMR

There’s no special secret to boosting your metabolism, but there are natural, easy ways to help it out.

Exercise: Think high-intensity (HIIT) training, lifting heavy weights, and sitting less.
Food: Increasing your protein intake (beans, eggs, tofu and tempeh), has been shown to temporarily boost metabolism by 15 - 30%, helping you feel fuller longer, and is needed to build lean muscle.
Hydrate: Drinking lots of water helps with weight loss, but cold water has been associated with temporarily boosting your BMR. Green tea has also been shown to rev up metabolism in small amounts, as does coffee.
Sleep: Not getting enough sleep has been linked to all kinds of things related to weight gain. Metabolism slows, hunger hormones increase, and blood sugar levels jump.

Some vitamins are also linked to increased metabolism:
B vitamins: Vitamins like B12, B6 and Thiamine help the body metabolize fats, carbs, and protein, ensuring we use nutrients efficiently.
Vitamin D: More and more research is showing that Vitamin D is important to all sorts of things, including blood sugar levels and reducing fat storage (though more research is needed to determine causality).
Calcium: When taken with Vitamin D, calcium has been linked to a healthier metabolism and blood sugar levels.
Iron: Iron is vital for correct cell functioning, carrying oxygen via red blood cells to our muscles. In turn, lean muscle tissue operates efficiently, burning fat and calories.
Magnesium: Essential for energy production and metabolism.

You can get just about all these vitamins and minerals by eating dark, leafy greens, whole grains, lean protein, oily fish, milk and yogurt, eggs, fortified cereals, and nuts and seeds.

And remember that each pound of muscle burns about six calories at rest per day, while the equal amount of fat burns only two. So if you want to lose weight, bulk up! (Read more about how lean muscle mass affects BMR here.)

Tracking Your Body’s Measurements

In addition to a healthy diet, a healthy metabolism needs lots of water, daily exercise, and a good night’s sleep. Determining, measuring and tracking your body’s functions and composition through things like the FitTrack app and Dara Smart Scale, gives additional insight into how healthy you are, and helps you achieve your fitness goals.

Learning about your metabolic age (basically an overall measure of health, which may be higher or lower than your actual age) as well as your basal metabolic rate are also helpful and important measures for optimal health and longevity. These calculations – made simple with our Dara Smart Scale – help to determine how many calories your unique body burns each day (without exercise), so you can then figure out how much you should be eating and how much you need to exercise to reach your goals.

For more about how the Dara Smart Scale works, check out one of our previous blogs. And remember that boosting your metabolism and losing weight is more about eating well and exercising often (and lifting weights!), and less about the year you were born.