Monday, October 08, 2001

Can you change your metabolism?

Maybe, experts say, although it takes a lot of work and willpower

By Llee Sivitz
Enquirer contributor

        Believe it or not, something you studied in high school biology could actually change your life. And it's a hot topic in fitness: Metabolism.

Kevin Ollendick, 27, of Hebron Ky., does flat dumbell chest presses at the Carew Tower Health & Fitness Club downtown.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        To refresh our fading class notes, Dr. John Dedman of the University of Cincinnati Department of Physiology, explains:

        “Metabolism is the breakdown of food substances and their reconstitution, from whatever has been eaten, to what the body needs.”

Basic reference point

               In his paper “Modifiers of Metabolism,” Dr. F. Xavier Pi-Sunyercompares it to chemical combustion resulting in heat loss (calories burned) or oxygen consumption (carbon dioxide produced).

        Ingestion of food or physical activity increases metabolism. Basal metabolism rate (BMR) refers to the calories or oxygen used for basic body functions during rest. It is considered the metabolic reference point.

        “Basal metabolism is related directly to lean body weight,” author Werner Hoeger writes in Principles & Labs for Fitness & Wellness. “The more lean tissue, the higher the metabolic rate . . . The human body requires a certain amount of oxygen per pound of lean body mass. As fat is considered metabolically inert from the point of view of calorie use, the lean tissue uses most of the oxygen, even at rest.”

        The formula is simple. Muscle increases your metabolism. Fat decreases it.

        Researchers know of other factors that affect the rate of metabolism, including gender, body temperature, age and hormone levels. But the big question is, can you change your metabolism?

        “I would say yes,” Dr. Dedman says, “and that would be primarily by exercise. But I would include lifestyle, which includes what you consume, as well.”

Perils of set point

               Sounds simple? Before you raise your metabolism jumping for joy, there's one more thing you need to know — the perils of set point.

        As defined by Mr. Hoeger, “Every person has his or her own certain body fat percentage (as established by the set point) that the body attempts to maintain. The genetic instinct to survive tells the body that fat storage is vital, and therefore it sets an acceptable fat level. This level remains somewhat constant or may climb gradually because of poor lifestyle habits.”

        In other words, while you're striving to change your body fat, your body is struggling against you.

        Says Dr. Dedman, “It's not understood why, but that is exactly true. I can't say that you can change your set point, but you can certainly change how much you ingest. It's mind over matter. After a dinner out, when the dessert cart comes around, you just have to say no, even though you want it like you can't believe. Most people who lose weight gain it back because of the internal set point.”

Fighting their set points

               At the Carew Tower Health & Fitness Center, members and staff alike work on their metabolism and fight their set points.

        Alyson Roeding, a computer programmer from Northern Kentucky, says she has been attacking her metabolism for several months. “Exercise, diet, watching what I eat. At the gym I ride the bike and do some machines and then I run three or four miles at night, usually six out of seven days. My weight has stayed pretty much the same but I have lost inches around my waist and stomach, and my lean body mass has increased.”

        Kevin Ollendick, a criminal investigator from Hebron, says he doesn't get much exercise on the job, so he works out with weights. “I've been working on my metabolism ever since I graduated from high school 10 years ago. I try to keep my food consumption up and I tend to eat more carbohydrates in the morning and more proteins later at night. I lift weights three times a week. I can bench press a little over 300 pounds, but I can also run about a five- or six-minute mile. I've had great results.”

Key is nutrition

               Walter Cherry of North Avondale is a health and fitness specialist at the center. “You really can't change your metabolism,” he says. “The only thing you can do is exercise to keep your heart healthy and be more active to burn more calories. I work out 45 minutes, five days a week. Even if you exercise three or four times a week, an hour a day, what is that out of the week? So to me the key is nutrition.”

        Are you ready to take on the “metabolism challenge?” Dr. Dedman has some advice.

        “I think as long as its gradual, nothing extreme, and common sense is used, then yes, of course. But one should always check with a physician if they are going to start a rigorous physical program.”

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