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Is Your Metabolism Slowing as You Age? Study Shows Surprising Findings

February 17, 2023

There is a lot of fear-mongering on the Internet about metabolism slowing down as we age. Yet, is that really true? A recent study suggests that our metabolism does slow down as we age, but it’s significantly less than what is portrayed in the media, and likely doesn’t have a huge effect on our health. So, why then, do we feel like our metabolism becomes sluggish with age?

Melissa Mitri, MS, RD, nutrition writer and owner of Melissa Mitri Nutrition explains, “while your metabolism does start to take a hit after 60, it’s not necessarily inevitable. Continuing to take care of yourself with plenty of sleep, exercise, and a healthy diet can support a healthy metabolism in your 60s and beyond.”

Let’s dive deeper into the research and find out exactly what helps — and hurts — our metabolism.

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Is your metabolism slowing as you age?

“Our metabolism does slow down as we age, but not nearly as early as you may think,” says Mitri. “The most recent research shows that metabolism slowing begins at age 60. At this time, our metabolism seems to slowly decline at a rate of about 1% per year. After age 60, your body’s ability to burn calories at rest decreases, leading to this gradual decline in metabolism.”

However, 1% per year is minuscule in the grand scheme of things. For example, in a 2000-calorie diet, this decline would be a 20-calorie difference each year. That’s not exactly enough to gain a significant amount of weight.

Is there “a turning point” where metabolism slows down? 

We spoke to Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD who shares that your metabolism fluctuates many times over the course of your life.

“There are a few turning points with metabolism,” says Andrews. “Infants have roughly one and a half times the metabolism of adults before their first birthday. A person’s metabolic rate declines by roughly 3% each year after the initial surge as an infant. Metabolism slowly drops until the age of 20 then settles out between the ages of 20 and 60. We now know metabolism then drops in older adults after the age of 60.”

Related: 8 Delicious, Metabolism-Boosting Mediterranean Diet Recipes

Interestingly, it is between the age of 20 and 60 that we hear many people wondering if their metabolism is broken. In reality, researchers point to other lifestyle factors such as becoming more sedentary, eating more food over your lifetime, and rising stress levels as reasons for weight gain and poor health in midlife and later years.

Do any factors make our metabolism slower? 

Pam Hartnett MPH, RDN of The Vitality Dietitians explains how muscle mass (or lack of it) plays a role in a healthy metabolism.

“The research found a strong correlation between higher lean body mass and increased metabolism, which aligns with previous research findings,” says Hartnett. “However, when the researchers controlled for lean body mass they found that metabolism didn’t slow until after age 60.  This is good news because it shows that metabolic changes before age 60 are not inevitable!  Unfortunately, many people start to lose bone and muscle much earlier than age 60, so taking action to preserve lean body mass at any age is critically important to maintaining a healthy metabolism.”

Andrews lists some additional factors that are associated with a decreased metabolism:

  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Having less muscle mass
  • A very low-calorie diet
  • Weight loss (losing weight drops basal metabolic rate)
  • An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
  • Poor sleep hygiene

“Loss of muscle slows your metabolism because lean body mass uses more energy than fat cells do to function,” Harnett continues. “This means that building and maintaining muscle and bone is the best way to increase your resting metabolism.”

What can one do to keep a healthy metabolism as you age? 

“Stay active with a combination of cardio and strength training exercises,” Mitri recommends. “When it comes to exercise, make sure you’re doing something you love so you stay consistent enough to see the results. In addition, make sure you’re eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Limit added sugars, processed foods, fatty meats, and alcohol, as these all contribute to inflammation as we age.”

Hartnett agrees that weight training is one of the most beneficial ways to combat a slowing metabolism.

“To offset metabolism changes from aging, it is important to add strength training to your exercise routine,” she says. “Strength training is a weight-bearing activity that also helps to build bone density, so strength training is a win-win approach to decrease metabolism slowing. Because it also becomes more difficult to add muscle as we age, it is best to start a weight training routine before you notice a significant decline in muscle mass.”

Read next: 6 Surprising Ways to Keep Your Metabolism Up as You Age

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