A closer look at physical activity and metabolism

While you don't have much control over the speed of your basal metabolism, you can control how many calories you burn through your level of physical activity. The more active you are, the more calories you burn. In fact, some people who are said to have a fast metabolism are probably just more active — and maybe more fidgety — than are others.

You can burn more calories with:

  • Regular aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise is the most efficient way to burn calories and includes activities such as walking, bicycling and swimming. As a general goal, include at least 30 minutes of physical activity in your daily routine. If you want to lose weight or meet specific fitness goals, you may need to increase the time you spend on physical activity even more. If you can't set aside time for a longer workout, try 10-minute chunks of activity throughout the day. Remember, the more active you are, the greater the benefits.
  • Strength training. Strength training exercises, such as weightlifting, are important because they help counteract muscle loss associated with aging. And since muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue does, muscle mass is a key factor in weight loss.
  • Lifestyle activities. Any extra movement helps burn calories. Look for ways to walk and move around a few minutes more each day than the day before. Taking the stairs more often and parking farther away at the store are simple ways to burn more calories. Even activities such as gardening, washing your car and housework burn calories and contribute to weight loss.

No magic bullet

Don't look to dietary supplements for help in burning calories or weight loss. Products that claim to speed up your metabolism are often more hype than help, and some may cause undesirable or even dangerous side effects. Dietary supplement manufacturers aren't required by the Food and Drug Administration to prove that their products are safe or effective, so view these products with caution and skepticism, and always let your doctors know about any supplements you take.

There's no easy way to lose weight. The foundation for weight loss continues to be based on physical activity and diet. Take in fewer calories than you burn, and you lose weight.

Our knowledge is increasing about all of the mechanisms that impact appetite, food selection, and how your body processes and burns food. Your health care provider can help you explore interventions that can help you lose weight.

Sep. 19, 2014 See more In-depth