Exercise is a gift to yourself that keeps on giving. In a phenomenon known as excess postexercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), your body can take hours to recover from a robust workout (one intense enough that you can't hold a conversation) and return to its previous resting metabolic rate. The windfall: Your body is actually burning more calories than it normally would—even after you've finished exercising. There’s a catch, though. The better shape you're in, the less benefit you'll get, because your fit body replenishes its energy stores efficiently. You can improve your burn by increasing how often or how hard you work out (think intervals), suggests Walt Thompson, PhD, professor of kinesiology and health and nutrition at Georgia State University.
It's tempting to curl up on the couch the minute PMS mood swings and bloat strike, but you'll lose more weight if you exercise during those two weeks before your period, according to a recent study at the University of Adelaide in Australia. "Women burned about 30 percent more fat for the two weeks following ovulation to about two days before menstruating," says study coauthor Leanne Redman. Here's why: The reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone are at their peak then — and because they promote the body's use of fat as energy, more fat is burned off when you exercise during this time.
When you’re looking to give your body a boost, you know turning to a solid weightlifting session, afternoon bike ride, even a a quick 30-minute HIIT session will get your metabolism cranked up. Metabolism is simple. It’s a series of chemical processes by which your cells produce the energy needed to sustain life—and the higher it revs, the more energy your body burns.
The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil have been shown to increase the speed of your metabolism exponentially. According to a report from the University of Ontario, researchers found the consumption of oily fish with omega-3 can increase the fat-burning enzymes in the body and lower levels of stored fat, says Elle UK. The supplement can help you burn an extra 400 calories a day, or 25 percent of your daily calorie intake.
If you're cutting calories to lose weight, add 200-300 to your daily intake once in a while, says Amanda Bonfiglio Cunningham, a senior Yoga Medicine instructor. "The body will get used to a calorie deficit diet, adjusting by slowing the metabolic rate. By allowing yourself a day of indulgence (not overindulgence!), you're creating a healthy balance," she explains. "The extra calories raise leptin production, a hormone that regulates appetite and energy. This rise triggers thermogenesis, the body's natural tendency to create heat, which results in burning calories." Pass the dessert menu!
Ever wonder why your best friend can go through a pint of Ben & Jerry's without gaining a pound while just one spoonful goes straight to your hips? The answer lies in your metabolism, that little engine in your body that burns calories all day, every day. Because of genetics, some women burn fat faster than others. But age, weight, diet, and exercise habits also play a role.
Your body needs water to process calories. If you are even mildly dehydrated, your metabolism may slow down. In one study, adults who drank eight or more glasses of water a day burned more calories than those who drank four. To stay hydrated, drink a glass of water or other unsweetened beverage before every meal and snack. Also, snack on fresh fruits and vegetables, which naturally contain water, rather than pretzels or chips.
Ideally, we sleep about eight hours for every 24. Most people spend another seven to ten hours sitting at their desk. That means most of us spend the overwhelming majority of our time sedentary. Our bodies weren’t designed for this level of inactivity—most of humans’ evolutionary history involved being active, searching for food and fuel. Nutritionist Lisa Jubilee says that one way to burn more calories daily is to stand more and sit less. She cites a British study which found that standing at work burned 50 more calories per hour than sitting. If that doesn’t sound like a lot, consider this: If you stand for just three hours of your day, in one year you’d expend more than 30,000 extra calories—which amounts to about 8 pounds of fat!
You've heard this one before, but it's worth repeating! Eating smaller meals more often throughout the day can help fire up your fat-burning furnace. Susie Akers, director at the Aamoth Family Pediatric Wellness Center at MetroHealth and gastroenterology dietitian, recommends you consume at least three to four times a day instead of only one to two times to keep your metabolism up and avoid excessive portions with large meals.
Add mustard to your meal, and feel the burn—literally! Scientists at England’s Oxford Polytechnic Institute found that by eating just one teaspoon of mustard (about 5 calories) can boost the metabolism by up to 25 percent for several hours after eating. The benefits, researchers say, may be attributed to capsaicin and allyl isothiocyanates, phytochemicals that give the mustard its characteristic flavor.
Refined carbs, such as bagels, white bread, and potatoes, create a surge in insulin that in turn promotes storage of fat and may drive down your metabolic rate, says Louis Aronne, M.D., an obesity specialist at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center, who recommends high-fiber carbs instead. "It's important to keep carbohydrates in your overall diet, but focus on vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, which have less of an impact on insulin levels," he explains.
Thinking about having a cocktail — or two — before dinner? Think again. Having a drink before a meal causes people to eat around 200 calories more, several studies show. Drinking with dinner isn't such a good idea either: Other research has found that the body burns off alcohol first, meaning that the calories in the rest of the meal are more likely to be stored as fat. If you do have a cocktail craving, stick to wine, which packs only 80 calories a glass — or minimize the calories by drinking a white-wine spritzer (two ounces of wine mixed with two ounces of seltzer).
Don't think you have time to hit the gym circuit? You can get great results with only two 15-minute lifting sessions a week. Westcott's research, published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise in January 1999, found that doing just one set of 10 reps reaps about the same muscle-building benefits as three sets, as long as they're performed to muscle fatigue. Bonus: Weight training also gives your metabolism a short-term boost. When women lift weights, their metabolisms remain in overdrive for up to two hours after the last bench press, allowing them to burn as many as 100 extra calories, according to a study published in June 2001 in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
Instead of ditching carbs or going low-fat, try a diet that's rich in veggies, beans, and legumes to increase your metabolism — and keep your blood sugar from spiking. "Many people think weight is all about calories in, calories out, but quality also matters," says Aunna Pourang, M.D. "[In a 2012 study], low-carb diets showed the most increase in metabolism, but also showed an increase in the stress hormone cortisol. This is why scientists concluded that the low-glycemic diet worked the best."
You’ve heard they're bad for you. But trans fats also slow down your body's ability to burn fat. "They have an altered shape and make your biochemistry run funny," Hyman says, explaining that trans fat binds to fat and liver cells and slows metabolism. Eating trans fat can also lead to insulin resistance and inflammation, both of which cripple metabolism and can cause weight gain.
The easiest 350 calories you'll ever burn: Exercise is obviously important, but regular daily activity known as "NEAT" (nonexercise activity thermogenesis) is equally essential for a healthy metabolism. Small movements such as stretching your legs, taking the stairs, even just standing to talk on the phone increases your energy expenditure and can add up to an extra 350 calories burned a day.