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What is my metabolism and how does it work?

Illustration of a battery running low with a sad face
Your metabolism is a bit like an internal battery

When it comes to metabolism, you’ve probably got a rough idea of what it is, but how much do you really know about the role it plays in your overall health and wellbeing?

Can metabolism be fast or slow? Does your metabolism change as you age? Do people’s metabolisms really work at different rates? Are there ways to improve your metabolism?

If you’ve ever wondered about these things , or just want to learn a little more about how metabolism works, you’ve come to the right place. Join us as we explore some of the questions you may have about your metabolism.

For starters, what is metabolism?

Metabolism is the complex chemical processes your body uses for normal functioning and sustaining life, including breaking down food and drink to energy and building or repairing your body.

At any given time inside your body, thousands of chemical reactions are taking place to keep cells healthy, thriving and functioning. For your body to function normally, it requires essential nutrients, including energy (kilojoules), that come from the food and drinks you consume. The amount of energy your body burns at any given time is directly affected by your metabolism.

So, how does metabolism work?

We’re always burning energy, even when we’re sleeping. There are two chemical processes that take place for metabolism to happen, catabolism and anabolism, which are regulated to remain in balance. To put it simply:

  • Catabolism is the process where food and drink is broken down into simpler forms, which results in the release of energy.

Catabolism process

  • Anabolism is the process where energy is used for bodily functions, including to grow and repair cells in your body.

Anabolism process

If more kilojoules are consumed in a day than needed, the excess kilojoules is stored mostly as fat.

Are there any factors that affect my metabolism? Can it be fast or slow?

Your metabolic rate refers to the rate that your body uses energy to function. When it comes to metabolism, there are a number of factors that can influence this rate, including:

  • Body size – People with a larger body size, including muscle mass, are likely to burn more kilojoules .
  • Gender – Generally men will burn more kilojoules, because in most circumstances they have more muscle relative to their total body weight.
  • Age – As you age and begin to lose muscle, your metabolism will slow down.

Is there anything I can do to increase the rate of metabolism?

There is little scientific evidence to suggest that foods, drinks, pills or supplements can boost your metabolism. But through healthy eating and physical activity, you can influence how much energy is going in to and being used by your body.

The energy used during physical activity is the only energy expenditure that you have any control over, so incorporating 30 minutes of physical activity into your daily routine is key. The more physical activity you do, the more energy you can burn.

When it comes to muscle, the more you have, the more kilojoules you will burn. As people age, they generally begin to lose muscle and metabolism begins to slow down. Research suggests that strength and resistance training can help to increase muscle mass or reduce the loss of muscle, so weight-bearing activities like yoga or stair climbing are great places to start. If you are new to physical activity, have a health problem, or are concerned about the safety of being more active, speak with your doctor or health professional about the most suitable activities for you .

Eating and drinking well is another important way to maintain your metabolism. Check out Healthier.Happier . for healthy lifestyle tips, recipes and resources. If you’d like to understand the number of kilojoules you should be consuming each day, visit Healthier Happier’s kilojoule calculator to help you determine how many you need.

I’m concerned about my metabolism, what do I do?

If you’re concerned about your metabolic rate, speak to your doctor or call 13 HEALTH on 13 43 25 84.

More information

30 fun ways to get 30 minutes of physical activity today

5 reasons why women should do weight training

How does your metabolism work?

The two processes of metabolism

Thanks to the team at Health and Wellbeing Queensland for reviewing this blog.

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Last updated: 24 February 2020