A healthy metabolism will keep you in shape and raise your energy levels, both of which are essential to smart money management. By staying healthy, you'll save money on health care costs while maintaining your ability to earn a living. Your metabolism – more specifically, your metabolic rate – is how quickly your body is burning calories. So if you’re trying to lose weight, raising your metabolic rate means you’ll see results faster.
You don't need fancy diets or expensive gym memberships to raise your metabolic rate. Here are 17 simple things you can do today to jumpstart your body.
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1. Fidget. Tap your foot, twirl a pen, chew sugar-free gum while at your desk. Fidgeting uses energy, and while you won’t be shedding inches instantly, the mini-aerobics on a daily basis adds up – highly fidgety people may burn up to 500 calories more in a day.
2. Stay properly hydrated. Studies have shown that when we are dehydrated, our systems slow down. That includes our metabolism. Aim for at least 8 cups of water a day. An easy way to keep track is to get a 32-oz (4 cups) water bottle, and drink two full bottles a day. If water is too boring for you, there are several natural ways to make water more flavorful.
3. Avoid diet soda. Water is king when it comes to hydration, but many people find it boring and look for alternatives like diet soda. But just because it has 0 calories doesn’t mean it’s as good as water. The problem is that the chemical sweeteners used in diet sodas can increase food and fat cravings, which can make sticking to a structured diet and seeing results much harder.
4. Drink cold drinks. Research subjects’ metabolisms increased by a third in the 30-40 minutes after drinking a glass of water. The metabolic rate increase is due to your body warming up the liquid.
5. Spice up your meals. Spicy foods speed up the metabolic process by 20 percent or more for up to half an hour after eating them. Adding a dash of red pepper flakes to stews, pasta sauces, and other dishes is an easy way to turn up the heat and increase the burn.
6. Eat a balanced diet that includes “negative calorie” foods. Complex carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables fill you up and take effort for the body to break down. Some vegetables (like celery) and other complex carbohydrates (like high fiber foods) even require more calories to break them down than they contain, making them “negative calorie” foods.
7. Eat more protein. Studies have shown that the body uses twice the energy to break down foods containing protein as it does food that has a high carbohydrate or fat content. (See also: 10 Things to Do With Bargain Beef.)
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8. Eat fish to store less fat. Eating salmon, tuna, and other fish lowers the levels of leptin in your body. Leptin tells your body how to store calories, and high levels of it trigger fat storage. Eat more fish, lower your leptin levels, and your metabolism triggers your body to store less fat.
9. Eat enough calories over the course of the day. Crash diets don’t work. If you take in fewer calories than your basal metabolic rate (BMR) – that is, the amount of calories your body needs when you’re completely inactive – then your metabolism will slow down as your body goes into survival mode. So make sure you eat enough to keep your metabolism from stalling.
10. Don't skip breakfast. Eating breakfast is a signal to your metabolism that it’s time to start working. Skipping breakfast for the sake of eating less throughout the day is counter-productive; not only does it keep your body in rest mode, but it also makes you hungrier throughout the day.
11. Eat consistently throughout the day. Eating introduces food into your system, which puts your metabolism to work converting that food to energy it can use. So constant snacking keeps your metabolism elevated throughout the day.
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12. Plan ahead for meals and snacks. Eating smaller meals more frequently has the added benefit of keeping your energy level from spiking up or down, which helps you avoid hunger, stay more active, and avoid stress. Have a food plan for the whole day, so you’re not tempted by the vending machine in the afternoon and have the energy to exercise after work.
13. Kick your workouts up a notch. When you’re walking, wear a weight vest, or bring dumbbells and do curls along the way. Use fitness bands and other resistance gear to get your body to burn more energy in the same amount of time. Need to stay organized? Check out these 8 fitness and diet smart phone apps.
14. Focus on muscle at the gym. Building muscle will help you burn more calories even when you’re not moving. While cardio exercise helps to burn fat, muscle building speeds up your metabolic rate for up to 2 hours after every 20-minute session. Better still: every pound of muscle in the body burns 35 calories per day rather than the 2 calories burned by a pound of fat.
15. Perk yourself up with some caffeine. Whether it’s a cup of coffee in the morning or a cup of tea in the afternoon, a little bit of caffeine increases your metabolism in the short term. Just be aware that milk and sweeteners add calories, which can counter the metabolic benefits. Also beware of having too much caffeine, which may lead to energy crashes or fitful sleep. (See also: Cheapest Ways to Get Your Caffeine Fix.)
16. Dodge stress. Stress raises cortisol levels; cortisol is a hormone that can make you hungrier and slow down your metabolism.
17. Never underestimate the value of a good night’s sleep. Like stress, though, lack of sleep can elevate levels of cortisol. If the risk of slowing your metabolism down isn’t enough to motivate you to try for 8 hours of sleep, how about this -- when you sleep, your body produces a hormone that increases your metabolic rate.
Greg Go is the co-founder and top personal finance blog rank editor of Wise Bread, a blog dedicated to helping readers live large on a small budget. Wise Bread's book, 10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget, debuted as the #1 Money Management book on Amazon.com.