I know there’s not a lot you can do diet-wise to rev up your body’s engine, so it looks like exercise is the best approach to increase metabolic rate.

June 04, 2010

By Julie Upton, RD
During a run yesterday, my girlfriend and I were commiserating about how we can win the battle against our aging—and slowing—metabolism.

I know there’s not a lot you can do diet-wise to rev up your body’s engine, so it looks like exercise is the best approach to increase metabolic rate.

Research shows that you can get modest, and usually short-lived, metabolism lifts from making time for breakfast, getting more protein, eating chili peppers, drinking lots of coffee and tea, and having more frequent meals. However, exercise habits can make a bigger difference in your overall metabolism.

Since body weight—and lean muscle mass specifically—is the primary contributor of metabolism, increasing lean body mass has been one proven way to raise your rate. However, there is constant controversy over which kind of exercise is best: strength training or endurance training?

A study from the University of Kansas attempted to answer this question. The study randomly assigned 30 men into three exercise groups: 1) resistance training three days a week; 2) endurance exercise three days a week; or 3) a combination of resistance training and endurance exercise three days a week.

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The results showed that after 10 weeks, VO2max, an indicator of the body’s capacity to process oxygen, increased 13% for the endurance exercise group compared with 7% for those who combined both types of training and –0.2% for the resistance training group. One repetition maximum for parallel squats increased by up to 23% in the resistance training group and up to 19% in the combination group, but remained at –0.7% for the endurance exercise group.

Metabolic rate increased significantly among those who strength trained (just over 100 calories per day) or did a combination of training (increased just under 100 calories per day) but actually declined among the endurance exercisers.

These data, according to the study, indicate that endurance training alone will increase aerobic power and decrease body fat, and resistance training alone will increase metabolic rate and muscular strength. However, the combination of resistance training and endurance exercise provides the best overall gains.

Upping your metabolism may also have a benefit on your eating habits. A 2008 study found that people who combined aerobics and weight training for 16 weeks curbed their intake of calories, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.

I’m doing a lot of trail running, gearing up for my TransRockies race, but I’m not giving up my strength-training sessions with my personal trainer.

Strength training stimulates muscle growth rather than continually breaking it down, which is what happens with aerobic exercise. So I’ll be hitting the weight room, for my metabolism’s sake. Here’s a quick metabolism-boosting workout for you to try too.

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