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Metabolic Rate ~ [Issue 0100-3]  Wellness Weekly
 Jan 19, 2000 08:52 PST 

Metabolism is defined as the sum total of all the chemical reactions
taking place in your body. It is generally divided into two basic
categories: anabolic and catabolic. Anabolic processes are those
which result in a "building up" of substances, such as the processes
of manufacturing hormones or the building of muscle tissue. This is
usually good, but when out of control, can be deleterious as well
(plaque buildup in the arteries, for example). Catabolic processes
are the "breaking down" of substances in the body. The perfect
example is digestion of the food we eat. The catabolic process of
"breaking down" larger fat, carbohydrate, and protein molecules in
our diet is essential, allowing us to absorb them and use them for energy.

Metabolic rate is a reflection of how fast or slow our biochemical
reactions take place. Metabolism may be considered our metabolic rate
at rest - that is, the amount of energy or calories our body utilizes
or burns just to keep alive and satisfy basic needs such as pumping
blood and breathing.

Most people are surprised to learn our body burns more calories just
to maintain itself than it burns for other daily activities such as
walking or exercising. A person of average size, weighing 150 pounds,
burns about 1500 calories each day to maintain basic life processes
and only 300 to 500 calories for other activities such as walking or

About two of every three people in the Western, developed world are
overweight to some degree. The laws of chemistry and physics prevail:
if we burn less calories than we consume, the excess energy,
represented as calories, is stored as body fat. Conversely, when we
burn more calories than we consume, we burn up some of the energy
stored as body fat. Obviously, we shift the balance of calories
burned by either increasing or reducing the amount of calories
consumed, by varying our general activity level, by exercising, by
altering the digestive process to reduce calorie absorption, and by
changing our metabolic rate. If our metabolic rate goes up, we burn
more calories. With this increase, we usually notice more energy and
a slightly higher body temperature.

To maintain a higher, more efficient metabolic rate and, in so doing,
burn more calories and maintain a lesser weight, it is important to
maintain muscle mass. Muscles are our metabolic engines. In them, we
burn the great majority of our calories. Every pound of muscle burns
about fifty calories a day. Unfortunately, each pound of fat only
burns about two calories per day.

The following example explains quite clearly the difference. Let us
compare two different people, Jean and Judy. Both of them are 5'6" in
height and weigh 135 pounds. Jean, however, has less muscle and a
higher body fat composition - 35% compared to Judy's 20%. It is easy
to see that Judy will naturally burn more calories than Jean. Because
Judy has more muscle, her metabolic rate will be higher, even when
she is just sitting around. This is why weightlifting and other
activities are so beneficial to those who wish to control their
weight; they build muscle, which in turn boosts the metabolic rate.
At the same time, it is important to make certain to include adequate
protein in our diet, to provide the amino acids our body needs to
maintain and build muscle tissue.
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