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Coach Rich Dafter
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Rich Dafter

Raise Your Metabolic Rate

Let's face it: You can't change your genes, your age or your gender, so there are some parts of the metabolic equation that will stay constant no matter what you do. But with a few changes in your exercise and eating habits, you can boost your metabolism by up to 10 percent, according to researcher R. Scott Van Zant, Ph.D., of Northern Arizona University's Department of Health, Physical Education, Exercise Science and Nutrition.

If that doesn't seem like much, consider this: If a 150-pound woman changed her exercise habits and converted 10 percent of her body fat to muscle, she would be able to consume 300 extra calories a day without gaining weight. Looked at another way, the right change in your metabolism could mean you can eat three chocolate chip cookies every day, without gaining weight. 

Exercise Basics

The best way to increase your metabolic rate is to decrease the amount of FAT you're carrying and replace it with muscle, which means a combination of heart-pumping aerobic activity and muscle-building weight workouts. burn calories

Aerobic activity can be anything from a session on a Stairmaster to a pickup game of basketball. The point is to have fun and get your heart pumping for at least 20 minutes, at least three times a week. Strength training requires a little more care and planning, and should be done on days when you're not doing a full-scale aerobic workout (a ten-minute warmup before weight training is fine).

A great way to lose weight and burn calories is to use a heart rate monitor. A heartmonitor helps you exercise at the optimum heart rate to burn calorie and bodyfat.

If you've never tried weight training, here are a few tips to get you started.

  • Get some help: Basic weight training isn't hard, but even a single one-on-one session with an exercise physiologist/trainer can help make your workout safer and more efficient. Most YMCAs have staff trainers with reliable credentials. Or if you prefer working out at home, get a basic weight-training book, such as Strong Women Stay Young, by Miriam Nelson, Ph.D. (Bantam Books), or an instructional videotape.
  • Start small: The goal of weight training is to gently put stress on your muscles, not tear them to shreds. Start with weights that you can lift easily, without having to contort yourself into strange and potentially dangerous positions. Increase weight only when you can easily do 12 repetitions in good form, and then only in small (such as two pound) increments.
  • Go slowly: Yanking a weight up and down doesn't work muscles efficiently, and it increases the likelihood that you'll hurt yourself. Use a slow, smooth movement, raising the weight on a count of five, and lowering it on another count of five. Pay attention to how your muscles feel as you do this: a slight burning sensation is okay; searing pain is not. If it hurts, stop.
  • Time it right: Although many researchers have tried to pin down the right time for doing various exercises, no one has come up with a definitive answer. So be active when it's convenient for you. If you want to do bicep curls at 2 A.M., go ahead. Just make sure you're awake enough to maintain good form.
  • Give yourself a break: Be sure to take a day off between weight-training sessions, to give your body time to build new muscle tissue.

The Power of Food

Food does more than add calories; it also burns them. Digestion takes work, and therefore calories — a phenomenon known as the "thermogenic effect of food." This effect accounts for only five to 10 percent of your metabolic rate, but it's still worth exploiting. Here are some tips.

  • Do your eating early. Metabolism naturally slows down during the afternoon and evening, which means that food has less of a thermogenic effect when eaten late in the day. So you stand a better chance of burning off a hearty breakfast than you do an enormous dinner.
  • If you must eat late, go for lean PROTEIN and veggies: Pure protein has the most thermogenic effect of all foods (30 percent of its calories are used during digestion), so very lean protein foods will give your metabolism a little boost. The FIBER and complex CARBOHYDRATES in vegetables will also force your body to do some extra work, though not as much as they would earlier in the day.
  • Be sure your carbohydrates are complex. Not all carbohydratess are created equal. Your body has to work harder to break down the fiber and complex carbohydrates in whole grains and vegetables than it does breaking down fiber-free refined flours or simple carbs such as honey and sugar. Get the maximum metabolic benefit from your carbohydrates by eating plenty of whole grain foods, such as oatmeal, brown rice and whole grain cereals and breads, and steering clear of sugar and refined flour products, such as pasta, white bread, croissants and pastries.

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