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Does metabolism slow as you get older?

By Dr. Mary James, ND

We hear from so many women who say that they’re gaining weight in perimenopause. And that’s why today, we’re curious about the answer to this question: Does metabolism slow down as we get older?

The simplest answer to this question is a qualified yes: your metabolism will change as you move through life, mostly due to other shifts in your body that change how you burn calories. 

metabolism will change as you move through life

In its simplest definition, metabolism turns the food you eat into energy your cells use to do their jobs . Muscle burns more calories than fat so if you’re overweight with more fat than muscle, you’ll burn fewer calories. Same deal if you’re not active: you’ll have a slower metabolism too. In both cases, your metabolism is just responding to the conditions you’re creating.

But something does make metabolism change as you get older: your hormones. And yes, estrogen is one of those hormones. For women, the decline in estrogen that starts during their late 30s may also lower their metabolic rate. 

If you’re in perimenopause and gaining weight, your body is ramping up fat storage. That’s because when estrogen drops, it changes the levels of other sex hormones and tells your body to store more fat in your abdomen (aka belly fat). Your body is fine with this because those belly fat cells produce estrogen, which is still needed for other jobs. 

Other hormone changes affect metabolism too, especially human growth hormone, or HGH. As you age, HGH decreases — again, naturally — which leads to two issues: one, you can't make calorie-burning muscle tissue as well as before, and two, you start to pack on more fat.

But even though these changes are normal and natural, they’re no fun if you’re gaining weight and unhappy about it. What can you do to rev up your metabolism

Three things -- and they are surprisingly simple!

  1. Stay physically active, which means get some kind of exercise just about every day.

2. Figure out something that helps you maintain muscle mass — lift weights, use resistance bands or try other weight-bearing activities.

3. Do your very best to eat a diet that is filled with vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats. Avoid processed foods with a lot of added sugar. Consider a supplement to give your metabolism more natural nutrient support.

Published: December 20, 2020 - Last Updated: April 9, 2021

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