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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 12, 2007

Up metabolism to curb middle-age weight gain

By Laurie Steelsmith

Lifting weights can increase your metabolism by 15 percent.

JEFF GENTER | Associated Press

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Q. Why do I keep gaining weight? It seems like everything I eat turns to fat. I'm a middle-aged female, and I haven't changed my eating or exercise habits. What can I do?

A. There are many things you can do to fight weight gain and the expanding midlife midsection. In middle age, your body's metabolism changes. Beginning around your mid-30s, it decreases approximately 5 percent every decade. So if you eat the same quantity of food and do the same amount of exercise as when you were 35, you slowly gain weight even though you eat a healthy diet and do regular exercise. The weight you gain is almost imperceptible until you try to fit into that slender pair of pants!

The good news is that there are a number of ways you can boost your metabolism. For starters, I recommend the following:

  • Decrease stress. When under stress, you release more of the stress hormone cortisol from your adrenal glands. After months of high stress, elevated cortisol levels cause you to store more fat than you burn. Adopt a healthier lifestyle and take supplements that support your adrenal glands, such as vitamin C, vitamin B5 and ginseng.

  • Grab some weights. According to a study directed by Miriam Nelson, author of "Strong Women, Strong Bones" (G.P. Putnam's Sons), people who lifted weights three times a week increased their metabolism by 15 percent, which means their bodies burned 200 to 300 extra calories every day. And although they lifted only three days a week, they would have to eat those extra calories seven days a week to maintain the weight they were before the study.

  • Check your fasting insulin level. Dr. Mogul, an endocrinologist at the New York Medical College, recommends that women experiencing midlife weight gain have their insulin checked. This detects the early onset of syndrome X, or insulin resistance, a metabolic disorder that causes certain tissues to develop a resistance to insulin. If your cells resist insulin, sugar stays in the blood stream for longer periods. This can result in increased weight gain, especially around the waist. Adopt an insulin-lowering diet if your insulin level is high.

  • Check your leptin level. If you are unable to lose weight despite your best efforts, it may be because your leptin is too high. Leptin, a hormone produced by your fat cells, controls hunger and tells your body if it should store or burn fat. If it is high, you will have trouble losing weight. To lower leptin, increase your intake of omega-3 fats and cinnamon, increase exercise and avoid simple sugars.

    Laurie Steelsmith is a naturopathic physician and licensed acupuncturist in Honolulu, as well as author of "Natural Choices for Women's Health" (Random House). You can reach her and read her past columns at www.drsteelsmith.com. This column is for information only. Consult your health provider for medical advice.