Metabolism: The Myth of the Mid-Life Slowdown

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Get ready to re-educate yourself about what you thought you knew about metabolism and aging.

A new study published in the magazine Science turns the idea of a mid-life metabolism decline upside down.

After analyzing data from 6,500 people of all ages – from newborns to 95 – researchers found:

  • Metabolism does not slow down in middle age
  • There are no real differences in metabolism between men and women
  • The onset of menopause does not reduce metabolism in women

Premier Health dietitian Alison Danko, MS, RDN, explains what this all means.

“Metabolism refers to how we use food for energy,” Danko says. Metabolism differs for every person and is impacted by body size, genetics, medications, sleep, and stress.

The amount of energy our bodies use and require each day equates to our metabolism. In general, larger bodies need more energy.

“What we burn each day — by keeping our bodies alive, our hearts pumping, our brains functioning, and our blood flowing for physical activity— is what we consider metabolism,” Danko says.

The new research defines four different stages of metabolism:

  • Infancy. Metabolism is high, reaching 50 percent above the normal adult rate of calorie burning.
  • Age 1 to 20. Metabolism slows 3 percent a year.
  • Age 20 to 60. Metabolism holds steady.
  • After age 60. Metabolism slows by 0.7 percent a year.

“This data shows that metabolism is not exactly to blame when it comes to weight gain in middle age,” Danko says.

What We Eat Matters

One thing we do know: Our food choices make an impact.

The author of this research study has done research on various populations around the world. This includes hunter/gatherer groups eating nutrient-dense, high fiber diets, Danko says.

“These populations don’t see this age-related weight gain and diseases related to high obesity,” Danko says.

Many women report increased food cravings with menopause, but there are no direct ties between hormone changes and an increased desire for certain foods. Instead, women should focus on eating sensibly.

“We are constantly exposed to hyper processed foods, and while they may be extra palatable, they are also related to weight gain. This study shows that what we eat really matters.”

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.

Allison Danko, MS, RDN

Allison Danko, MS, RDN