PhotoPeople trying to lose or control weight often run up against metabolism, the engine that runs your body. Actually, it's probably more like a computer operating system.

Much of our metabolism is preset by genetics. People with a fast metabolism burn calories more quickly than someone with a slow metabolism. And most of us have a faster metabolism when we are younger, which slows down as we get older.

Does that mean we are prisoners of our genetic and age-related metabolism? Not at all says Taylor Newhouse, a registered dietitian with the Texas A&M School of Public Health. She says while genetics play a huge role in how your body processes food, sustained changes in diet and lifestyle can also help speed things up.

“We can manipulate our metabolism to a degree,” Newhouse said. “It’s like a campfire. Just like we need to give a fire tinder and pieces of wood in order to keep it from slowing down and burning out, we need to fuel our metabolism as well.”

Get plenty of exercise

To maintain or speed up metabolism, working out regularly, including lifting weights or other exercises designed to build muscle, can be effective.

“Muscle burns more energy than fat,” Newhouse said.

Nutritious diet and eating breakfast

Diet also plays a role. A diet that includes plenty of leafy vegetables will provide your body with the nutrients it needs to help turn fat into muscle. Also, drink plenty of water.

A change in dietary habit might also produce results. To tweak metabolism, Newhouse says you shouldn't skip breakfast.

“People tend to overlook how important breakfast is,” she said. “We go all night without food, and our body can approach a fasting state, an episode where our body will withhold calories, if we wait too long to eat after waking up.”

While it can be hard to speed up your metabolism, Newhouse says it is pretty easy to slow it down.

Get plenty of sleep

The biggest mistake most people make, she says, is staying up too late at night and not getting enough sleep. She says more than a third of U.S. adults get less than the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep each night.

“Sleep is one of the biggest factors that people seem to forget about,” Newhouse said. “Even if someone eats well and exercises, if they don’t get adequate sleep, then their metabolism won’t run as efficiently.”

Newhouse says snacking throughout the day might have a bad reputation but it doesn't harm metabolism. In fact, she says it can be a positive, as long as the snacks are healthy and contain some protein, fiber, and carbohydrates.

If you have questions about how your metabolism is affecting your lifestyle, Newhouse suggests discussing it with your health care provider or sitting down with a registered dietician.

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