Our bodies are constantly changing. Whether it’s shifts in our environment, our diet, the effects of aging, or normal cell die-off and regeneration slowly altering our very composition over time, we never remain the same. That’s why getting to know your body and what works for you is a lifelong journey … nature likes to keep us on our toes.
These changes can manifest in many ways. Things we used to enjoy when we were younger we might not like anymore. We may find some activities are too strenuous, others are not enough of a challenge, certain foods no longer agree with us, and our cycles become modified. As we age, it’s important to work with these changes, not against them. It might feel intuitive to try and push ourselves to tolerate the things we did when we were younger in an effort to maintain our own idea of “normal” and “health,” but the truth is that healthy balance is a moving target, and it often starts with hormones.
One of the first places this becomes apparent is in the way we metabolize food for energy. While crow’s feet and 11 lines (the furrowed vertical lines between our eyebrows) may not materialize until our 40s, we might notice a gradual slowing of our metabolism starting as early as our late-20s, reaching its lowest point in our 50s. We spoke with Dr. Marli Amin, a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist, to get her take on the topic.
“Hormones play an essential role in aging and metabolism,” she explains. “The key hormones that affect metabolism include thyroid hormone, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, insulin, and cortisol. The levels and functions of these hormones change as we age, thereby altering the way our bodies process nutrients.”
One of the most obvious hormones in this list is estrogen, which drops most significantly at menopause but can fluctuate earlier than that as well. A drop in estrogen can lower metabolic rate, which is slightly different than the way we metabolize new food—it’s how quickly our bodies are able to convert stored energy into energy we can use right now. This study expands on the significance of that, noting that “estrogens and estrogen receptors regulate various aspects of glucose and lipid metabolism,” aka sugar, carbs, and fat.
The pituitary gland, sometimes referred to as the body’s “master gland,” is located in the brain and regulates the body’s major functions. It also is responsible for producing growth hormone, which slows as we age. According to Harvard Health, GH stimulates cell growth, and while that’s important at young, developmental stages in life, it’s also crucial as we get older to build and maintain muscle mass.
Since muscle GH and thus natural mass decreases with age, it’s recommended that we practice weight and strength training as we get older. This might sound counterintuitive. What? As we get older and weaker, we are supposed to start lifting weights? Well, actually, precisely. Strength training to maintain muscle mass is not only great for strengthening our muscles, bones, and tissues as we age, helping to fight against degenerative diseases like osteoporosis, but the more muscle mass one has, the more calories they are able to burn. Muscles require energy, which is what your metabolism uses calories for. It’s all coming together now.
It’s important to be aware of this as early in life as possible so that you can start making small dietary changes, as well as physical ones. As you approach your mid- to late-40s, start eating cleaner foods that are lower in simple carbs and sugars, since those are energy-dense foods. If your metabolism is slower, then you aren’t burning all those calories and glucose—you’re storing it away as fat.
If you’ve been a yogi all your young life, don’t worry. You can and definitely should continue your mindful and gentle practice to strengthen, tone, and build flexible resilience. However, moving into your 50s and menopausal time, it’s crucial to incorporate weights and strength training to uphold healthy muscle mass. Not only will it protect your tissues from degeneration, but more muscles equal more calories burned, aka a higher metabolism.