High Metabolism When Young & Slow Metabolism When Old? Inevitable?

I am sure you have heard the excuse of a slow metabolism as a reason for putting on weight as people get older.

I remember being pretty thin as a teenager and older relatives telling me to “enjoy it while you can”. They would say things like, “I was thin just like you until I hit 30, then my metabolism slowed down”. I was told “just wait until you are 30, then you will understand what we are talking about”.

So I am rolling up on 40 and didn’t put on any weight in my 30’s. I waited for that big metabolism slow down to hit me, but it never really happened. Was I just lucky or is something else going on here?

fast and slow metabolism

[I love black and white photos, especially when they are well done. I chose this particular photo because I love the lighting and shadowing. Plus this older gentleman looks great!]

It is True That Young People Have Less Body Fat on Average

According to the book Exercise Physiology college-aged men carry 15% body fat, while older men carry around 25% body fat. Women are closer to 25% body fat at a younger age and move up to 35% as they reach age 50.

I also have read elsewhere (can’t remember where) that men on average put on one pound of fat per year from the age of 35 to the age of 60…and that women put on less than one pound per year, but more in proportion to their overall weight.

Fat-Free Mass Burns the Same Amount, Regardless of Age

In 1950, Dr. Ancel Keys led a study with several other researchers called “Energy Requirements of Adults”. They found that regardless of age, the daily energy requirements (calories burned) per pound of fat-free mass was the same.

So a 20 year old and a 65 year old will burn roughly the same amount of calories if they are of the same height, weight, and body fat percentage. So it isn’t that the body is slowing down the calorie burning process…it is due to another factor.

Maintain Your Muscle to Maintain Your Metabolism

This is as simple as it gets. As adults become less physically active, their muscles shrink due to not being used. The combination of less fat free mass and less activity leads to inevitable weight gain (unless they reduce their calorie intake over time).

The only reason why older people on average tend to burn less calories than younger people of the same weight…is that the older people have less lean body mass.

Is It Extremely Difficult to Maintain Lean Body Mass?

Honestly, maintaining muscle is really easy to do and doesn’t take much effort at all. Maintaining the muscle you have is as simple as doing just about any type of resistance training a couple of times per week.

It doesn’t require a perfect diet and it doesn’t require a massive amount of time in the gym. The only exception is for people who like to carry large amounts of muscle on their frame, which I highly suggest you avoid…especially if you want to age gracefully.

For those who think maintaining muscle is tough, read this article I wrote about recent study on the subject: Maintain Muscle Mass On 800 Calories Per Day?

“Your Metabolism Won’t Slow Down if You Don’t”

This quote is from Clarence Bass, who I believe is in his 60’s or 70’s now…is still at a 6-8% body fat level. This quote from Clarence is one of the best motto’s I have heard for staying lean for a lifetime.

This is why exercise is so important…you can get lean with diet alone, but you will have a tough time staying lean if you don’t exercise. If you just diet, you will eventually lose lean body mass and in a few decades your metabolism will eventually slow down.

For long term health as well as looking and feeling great as you age, exercise is extremely important.

Note: I wrote this in response to the Time Magazine article that I referenced in my previous post: “Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin” – Analyzing This Time Magazine Article I didn’t just want to challenge this time magazine article…I wanted to state a strong case for exercise.

I think the author was thinking short-term when he was saying exercise didn’t work for fat loss. If you want to stay lean for a lifetime, you need to develop an exercise habit of some sort…period.

71 thoughts on “High Metabolism When Young & Slow Metabolism When Old? Inevitable?”

  1. Pingback: Young, skinny men! Be warned!
  2. A high metabolism means that the body is burning calories at a greater rate than average. People with high metabolisms can generally eat more food without gaining additional weight which can sometimes be seen as a perk. For others who are forced to constantly consume large amounts of food on a daily basis to maintain their weight, a high metabolism might feel like a curse.

  3. @The Spaniard

    I think the adversities should make us stronger and more determined. And yes young people have lot of adversities and problems, it’s not like you have responsabilities only as far as money or work is concerned. Even 12 years old have problems, have negative thought about their life, have social troubles and they should be taken seriously and not talking down to on the irrelevant base of age.

    Problems are a chance to show ourselves how good we’re in facing them. I think the worse reaction for yourself and your family is to get stressed or depressed when you have problems.
    You sound more frustrated than stressed and this frustration appears to make you harsh and hopeless which in turn increase your stress.

    The point is: if you can solve a problem then you should focus on solving it rather than complaining, if you can’t solve a problem then complaining won’t change anything and so you can use your energy in more constructive ways.

    Try to smile in face of adversities, try to be positive when things are very bad. People in war were extremely positive and still didn’t allow stress to take the better of them even when they had nothing but canned tomatoes to eat for a month. Being sad for a negative situation is normal but focusing on it all the time is masochistic. If someone insults me I don’t cry, I either ignore him or tell him to go to hell. If life insults you, you should do the same. If you allow bad situations to make you so stressed, frustrated and unhappy all the time, then the adversities, the bad, the evilness will have won and you are the one who loses, while challenges exist in this world to give us a chance to show ourselves we’re the winnners.

    I think that’s the best attitude you should have for your son so he can learn this healthy approach to living (life has never meant to be without problems or perfect, it would be so boring and pointless we wouldn’t care living it) because young kids should be taught to become stronger in adverse situations and to smile in face of negativity, in fact young kids usually are the one who fight the most in negative and depressing situation, showing they won’t the bad to win but want to be the winner (my 7 years old young cousing broke his leg and showed more maturity in dealing with the pain and problems than his parents when they break a nail)

    Also the best thing you can do for your son is giving him an healthy father who will be there when he needs him not matter how old he is. What really should frustrate or depress you is the thought that your son might grow or live without a father because he died from unhealthy lifestyle and from letting stress and frustation take over.

  4. Slow metabolism is a cheap excuse for non achievers.I am really fed up with non plausible excuses! I am near fifty and have six pack abs .
    My secret is far from a secret: clean diet,hill sprinting,weight circuit training and a lot of self motivation.

  5. Hey Rusty,

    I’m a bit behind on my reading so, I just read this post. After reading all the comments, I realize I am WAY behind. I will say after just turning 40 last week, and with two young kids, that I am in the best shape of my life and I’m very proud of that!! 🙂 And, like you, I don’t spend a ton of time working out. I just workout very smart and eat well 90% of the time.

    I really loved this post and found the research study to be incredibly interesting and informative. I am a huge fan of Alwyn Cosgrove (the Scot w/ attitude), Mike Boyle, Eric Cressy for that matter, so more of these kind of posts would be greatly appreciated. I just soak it up!!!


    Karen 🙂

  6. So much of your success in maintaining a steady metabolism throughout life is just to keep moving. We tend to slow down as we age and therefore decrease metabolism. We stress this with all of our personal training clients at Studio Element.

  7. Take a look at Herschel Walker the former American Football running back. He is 47 now! and is in amazing shape with no drugs! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herschel_Walker

    He has recently just signed to fight in mixed martial arts, most likely fighting against guy/s half his age.

    I agree with most posts here, age is used too much as an excuse and a cop out.

  8. baz,

    I went as low as 1300 calories a day and I am larger than you. You will see much better weight loss results for sure. The muscle loss issue is confusing. Eat Stop Eat quotes a study that says people can maintain muscle as low as 800 calories a day. Others feel that no weight loss is 100 percent fat and the larger the deficit the more muscle you will lose. The concept of muscle memory also complicates things. Muscle memory is the concept that after you lose muscle you will gain it back much faster, because your body will remember your bodies old muscle requirements. You are young so I would try 1300 calories until you are as lean as you want to be. Than gain the muscle back. I am looking forward to next year being a completely anabolic year filled with muscle gaining. I am spending the rest of this year trying to get lean.

  9. Jason G,
    the thyroid problem is the list of my concerns. Thyroid, slow metabolism…all that means you have to workout harder, which is no problem for me. You say stress is a poor excuse not to exercise..it depends of the type of stress we are talking about. I have recently met a lot of people in their 20’s that are under medication because of stress, and this I don’t understand. All they have to do is go to school and concentrate in their studies because their parents are paying for everything, yet they are beating themselves up with concerns no one should have at their age…specially when they have no responsibilities. Now that is not the type of stress I have, but instead of talking about me let me put you an example: wake up every morning not knowing if you will have enough money in your account to feed your family. Would you still look at life the same way as you do now?

  10. To The Spaniard,

    I believe your post was to me, but you put Deb in there instead. I actually was not a stay at home mom. I worked 2 different jobs when my kids were little. One job from 8-12pm. Then the other job from 6pm-11pm. I also worked weekends too when I had too. When I was home with my kids, I constantly tried to do something physical with them. I started working a regular full time job when my youngest was 2. My husband put on weight from just being lazy and overeating 😉 He was getting older and not taking care of himself. Anyway, I’m not trying to condemn you, I’m just trying to let you know that doing physical things with your kids helps to keep you in shape. Believe me, my life isn’t perfect, I have quite a bit of stress from working full time and helping my mother with our family business (2nd job). So, I’m stretched to the limit, but I make sure to exercise 5 days a week for about 45 minutes. I call this me-time. I don’t let anything defer me from this. I just think everyone needs at least a few minutes a day to themselves to do something that makes you feel better. Whether it’s a 10 minute walk, practicing yoga, body weight exercises, or whatever thing you can do to relieve stress. I honestly think you just need to try to do something small for yourself. I think it will help with the stress.

  11. Great article Rusty! One of my biggest “idols” at my gym is an ex-military guy who’s easily in his late 50’s/early 60’s and I would kill to have his physique. He’s living proof that age is more of an excuse than a factor.

  12. I’m confused. I haven’t done any bodybuilding to build mass.

    Should I add mass to my body first then do the strength training to shape my body, because you say that lifting heavy weights with low reps gives no muscle mass.

    Or will lifting heavy with low reps still build muscle but at a slower rate?

    What do you recommened for someone who is just skinny and has no muscle at all.

  13. Can going too low in calories be detrimental to fat loss? As long as my strength training regime is spot on, can say a calories intake of under 1500 calories of protein and good fats some days be detrimental to your goal of getting very lean while maintaing muscle mass?

  14. Matt,

    Thanks for the referrals to your friends and family…I really appreciate it. I never think excuses are good. The greater the number of excuses, the less chance of getting good results.


    Yeah…I believe a lot of this is in the mind. I always believed that if I took my brain and transplanted it into their body…they would be in shape within 3-6 months max.


    I don’t think menopause will do much as far as weight gain goes. I have seen way too many fit older women to believe that is necessarily the case.


    Even if hormone levels have a slight effect…I am of the belief to “do what it takes”…the alternative is to gain weight as you age. That just is an option in my life.


    That is right…he is over 70 now. I first saw him back in the 80’s and he was older than middle age and ripped back then.


    Muscle does hang a bit over time, but large amount of muscle is going to be effected much more than if you maintain a normal amount of muscle. Have you seen Arnold Schwarzenegger recently. He is an example of this. His entire body droops big time. In fact, Ronnie Coleman, recent winner of Mr Olympia already displays drooping muscles. I have said it a million times…but it doesn’t pay to put on excess muscle mass.


    Metabolisms vary from individual to individual, but the main thing I am talking about is changes over time. Some lucky people tend to stay slim no matter what.

    The Spaniard,

    It looks like you have already had a lot of responses to your comment, but I hear ya about life getting busy. I guess I would just try to eat a bit less and move a bit more when possible. Nothing too complicated, but just do your best to avoid putting on a lot of weight. It sounds like you are doing well anyway, but over the course of a year you could make slight adjustments to get back to being in top shape without making any major adjustments in lifestyle.


    Long-term is the only way to go…life is short so why not strive to be our best from beginning to end?


    We all have different experiences, but in my opinion a 20 pound gain could have been stopped at 5-10 pounds. A quick adjustment and then you are back to your normal weight. My philosophy is to do what it takes to never have to lose more than 10 pounds.


    Carbs can play a factor, but it isn’t the only reason for weight gain. You can gain weight on too many calories even if they are from protein and fat. I do get what you are saying due to insulin spikes and all of that, but it isn’t just carbs.


    Especially in Seattle where we live…literally hibernation weather!


    I agree, we should all live life to the max even when we are old. Who wants to live only 1/2 of a life.


    I don’t think pain is unavoidable. The key is to move through a good range of motion in workouts multiple times per week. Right now I am doing Adam Steer’s new body weight course and it emphasizes joint health. As I get older this is becoming more important to me.


    The important thing is to remember is to just stay active no matter what your age. Don’t let yourself ever get more than 10 pounds out from your ideal weight and staying fit will be a breeze for you.


    I remember seeing the first “Ripped” in the late 80’s and not believing my eyes.


    To keep the legs lean, just keep it at an incline of 2…no need to increase the angle. Speed the treadmill up instead of increasing the incline.


    Good idea about a post. I will write that down and possibly do it in the near future.

    Jason G,

    Good point, the exercise just helps people maintain the muscle as they age, giving people a higher calorie range…plus all of the health benefits.


    People are unique, but have more similarity than differences.


    Diet slip ups aren’t that bad at all and a great topic for a post. You can make up for it later throughout the week. This might be my next post.


    You won’t have a problem at all. Just stay active and you will be good. The main thing is to stop weight gain before it ever gets out of control. Adjust your diet if you ever get more than 5 pounds out from ideal shape…this approach will serve you well your entire life.


    If you have 12 pounds to lose? I would give it two months…not because it takes 8 weeks to lose 12 pounds, but these are your LAST 12 pounds. You will lose most of it the first month if you diet aggressively..the second month will be the last 3-4 pounds. If you want to get extra ripped, then the last 2 weeks you will push harder than ever (Vacation Body Blueprint) style. Hope that helps. ESE doesn’t really outline a training program…it is just a diet plan. Stick with your current training program.

    Paleo Garden,

    My older relatives live off of carbs. Tons of rolls, mash potatoes, etc…and you can tell they eat too much of this type of food. I’m not anti-carb, but do see the benefit of eating carbs within limits.


    Normally I don’t approve these types of comments, because this is comment spam. This time I decided to include it to show you it can hurt more than help. It is obvious to everyone that you didn’t even read the article and basically cut and pasted your comment. I love giving links to people with websites…I really do and even encourage it when people add to the conversation. All the comment links on my site are even “Do-Follow”, which means it will help with Google rankings. Again…I hope people benefit from commenting on my site and I hope it increases their traffic to their site…but NOT when they blatantly just try to get the link. Even worse…you kind of slammed the post…”Great post so far…I think you can learn more by visiting this website!” I am not trying to discourage you from trying to succeed online. I hope you just read this and realize that it isn’t a good idea to spam websites in your same niche that you could have possibly formed an relationship with. When you comment, you should try to help people or add value, then you might possibly get a certain percentage for readers to your site…there are several examples of website owners who added value above your comment. My hope is that they benefit tremendously, because they are adding to the topic. A win-win situation. Sorry for the rant…just trying to help you get better results.


    Thanks for that…I kind of went on a rant about Kelsey’s comment, because I get comment spam on a daily basis. She was tying to get a good link as well as traffic to her site, which is fine and even encouraged by me, but went about it in the wrong manner.


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  16. I think with older relatives (or anyone for that matter!) its really hard to explain to them how important it is to eat in terms of not spiking your insulin for long and/or continuous lengths of time, and how this important to retaining muscle mass.

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