Understanding exercise and metabolism

Understanding exercise and metabolism

Medically reviewed on February 15, 2022 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


You know exercise is important for physical and mental well-being, but did you know that it’s also a crucial component of a healthy metabolism? That’s right—exercising can help improve the effectiveness of the body’s energy usage.

To be clear, the relationship between exercise and metabolism is complex, but one thing that we know for sure is that regular exercise can help build healthy muscle. And the more muscle you have, the more energy the body uses each day.

Keep reading to learn more about the role exercise plays in keeping your metabolism humming along and what hormone regulates your metabolism (and consider learning more about the at-home Metabolism Test).

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What is Metabolism?

Metabolism is the series of processes in which the body converts food to usable energy and distributes it throughout the body [1]. It involves:

  • The food consumed
  • Enzymes in the body
  • Hormones
  • Blood and cells
  • Major organs

Every bodily function requires energy to perform its role in keeping the body alive. The amount of energy the body uses to perform this most basic function is called the “resting metabolic rate” (RMR). This is simply the energy systems need to sustain life by keeping the heart beating, blood circulating, and other essential functions running.

The aspect of the metabolism most influenced by exercise is the physical activity energy expenditure (PAEE). This term refers to the calories burned through the completion of physical activity. The PAEE can change each day as some days you’re more physically active than others. The type and intensity of exercise performed will also change the PAEE.

Factors That Influence The Metabolic Rate

Unfortunately, figuring out your metabolic rate isn’t a simple matter of addition. Yes, the RMR and PAEE are a huge part of calculating energy needs. But, many other factors also influence the amount of energy the body uses each day [2].

Some of the additional factors that help determine calorie needs include:

Overall body weight – The higher one’s weight, the more calories the body needs each day to survive. This can be one reason why people who are trying to lose weight can hit a plateau. The initial reduction in calories causes the body to burn stored fat for energy. As weight decreases, the body needs fewer calories to maintain homeostasis.

Body composition – The ratio of muscle to fat the body has also influences the amount of energy the body requires. Muscle uses more energy than fat for daily maintenance. If you have a more muscular build, your body may use more energy than someone who has a higher fat ratio.

Age – As we get older, our metabolism naturally slows. Lifestyle choices, disease, and other factors can cause our bodies to run less efficiently. In contrast, younger people may find they need more energy to function throughout the day, as they typically have higher metabolic rates.

Physical condition – Have you ever wondered how diabetes and metabolism correlate? Aging isn’t the only thing that can negatively impact the body’s ability to function optimally. Chronic conditions can interfere with the endocrine system and metabolic function.

Genetics – Lastly, some people are genetically predisposed to use more energy than others. This might be the result of a higher concentration of muscle to fat, body size, or other genetic factors.

Why is Exercise Important For Metabolism?

Exercise is important for metabolism for many reasons. As we’ve discussed, exercise increases muscle mass, which requires more energy each day. Additionally, exercise:

  • Helps keep the body healthy and systems functioning optimally
  • Helps to prevent unnecessary weight gain when completed regularly
  • Aids in healthy, restful sleep
  • Helps to relieve stress

The key takeaway is that the metabolism can’t function properly if the body isn’t healthy. Exercise is a must for optimizing overall health.

Will Exercising Increase Metabolism?

Exercising strongly influences metabolism by changing the amount of energy the body needs for both survival and activity. So, if you want to improve your metabolic rate, changing your body composition with muscle-building exercises is critical—the more muscle you have, the higher the metabolic rate since, at rest, the body’s muscle requires more energy than fat mass requires.

The body will also require more energy to account for the energy it’s using for exercise.

Which Types of Exercise Are Best For Metabolism?

All exercise requires energy and can benefit overall health and metabolism. Ultimately, the best approach to exercise is balance. Aim for a mixture of aerobic, strength, and flexibility exercises.

Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic exercise is what you likely know as cardio. This is any movement that raises the heart rate.

The CDC recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week [3]. This equates to about 30 minutes per day, five days per week. However, you can break up your activities into shorter or longer sessions, whichever works best for your schedule or feels most attainable. The most important thing is that you’re moving for at least 150 minutes each week.

Some examples of aerobic activities to try are:

  • Brisk walking
  • Jogging
  • Biking
  • Dancing
  • Rowing
  • Swimming
  • Tennis
  • Stair climbing
  • Playing basketball
  • Water aerobics

Even simple, daily activities like mowing the lawn, gardening, or cleaning your house can count as healthy, aerobic-based movement that may benefit the metabolism.

Strength Training

Aerobic exercise is only one part of the metabolism-boosting puzzle. Strength training is also critical for maximizing metabolic performance. This is because muscle requires more energy than fat.

Building muscle through strengthening exercises will increase both your resting and physical activity energy expenditures.

The CDC recommends performing exercises that strengthen all the major muscle groups, including the:

  • Hips
  • Back
  • Legs
  • Chest
  • Core
  • Arms
  • Shoulders

You should aim for strength training sessions at least twice per week to build muscle. Bodyweight exercises, resistance bands, and dumbbells are all excellent activity options for strengthening the muscles.

Flexibility and Mobility Exercises

Have you ever sat up in bed in the morning and felt every muscle and joint protest? Or maybe you used to be able to do the splits, and now you can barely touch your toes? As we age, we lose flexibility. In fact, a study in the “Journal of Aging Research” discovered that people aged 55 and older lose about 6% of the flexibility in the shoulder and hip joints per decade [4].

When joints are sore and stiff, you’re less likely to want to get out and exercise. Furthermore, limitations in mobility can hinder quality of life as we age. By proactively working to maintain flexibility, you’ll be better able to perform daily tasks and stay physically active. Some excellent choices for flexibility and mobility exercises to add to your routine include:

  • Yoga
  • Dynamic stretches
  • Static stretches

Performing exercises that increase range of motion and the ability to move freely are crucial components of keeping the body moving. This, in turn, allows you to keep your metabolism optimal.

What Else Can You Do to Improve Your Metabolism?

Exercise isn’t the only factor that influences metabolism. Other aspects may affect metabolic rate. As such, heed the following to manage your health [5]:

Check-in on your diet – Eating a diet that focuses on healthy fruits, vegetables, whole grains, proteins, and fats in the proper proportions optimizes your health and energy levels. If your plate is loaded with sugary, high saturated fat, low nutrient-density foods, your body can quickly feel the consequences. A poorly balanced diet can increase the risk for chronic diseases and doesn’t provide you with the optimal energy sources needed for physical activity.

Get plenty of restful sleep – When you’re overtired, the brain feels sluggish. This leads to a lack of energy. The body can misinterpret lack of energy and send signals to the brain that you need more food. This can lead to overeating and/or weight gain. A well-rested body has enough energy to exercise and make better-informed food choices.

Manage stress – Elevated stress levels spike cortisol levels. High cortisol levels inhibit the body’s ability to control hunger levels, which can lead to overeating. Cortisol is also a critical component of glucose production. Glucose is produced when the body converts carbohydrates to usable energy. This process is necessary to keep you going.

Evaluate hormone levels – Sometimes, insufficient diet, exercise, sleep, and stress management aren’t the only things that drain energy levels. The endocrine system is a complex network that, when malfunctioning, has a profound impact on the ability to maintain weight. Checking hormone levels may help determine if something is unbalanced.

Check on Your Metabolism with Everlywell

Exercise is important for optimizing health. It’s also an excellent way to rev up metabolism, maintain a healthy weight, and take your health into your own hands.

At Everlywell, we want to help you manage your health your way. With our at-home Metabolism Test, you can get a preliminary reading on your hormone levels to evaluate three key hormones that influence your metabolic rate. This simple-to-use test will provide you with valuable insight into your hormones. You can then plan the best exercise strategy for your body’s needs.


References

1. Judge A, Dodd Michael S. Metabolism. Essays in Biochemistry. 2020;64(4):607-647.

2. Metabolism. Better Health. URL. Accessed February 15, 2022.

3. How Much Physical Activity do Adults Need? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed February 15, 2022.

4. Stathokostas L, McDonald MW, Little RMD, Paterson DH. Flexibility of Older Adults Aged 55–86 Years and the Influence of Physical Activity. Journal of Aging Research. 2013;2013:1-8.

5. Metabolism. Better Health. URL. Accessed February 15, 2022.

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