Most people know that as we age, our metabolism slows, and our immune systems decline (immunosenescence), causing unwanted side effects and putting us at risk of disease. Not only are these two biological functions closely linked, but we can also actually fight the effects of aging on metabolism and reduce our immune age.
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At 50, some people have the immune system of a 30-year-old, others a 70-year-old!
What is Immunosenescence?
The gradual natural deterioration of our immune systems as we age, called immunosenescence, starts surprisingly early in life, during puberty. However, it’s not until around 60 years old that it starts to impact health when we are more likely to get seriously ill or die as a result.
Different lifestyle factors can accelerate immunosenescence – people who smoke, who are overweight, or are sedentary are likely to have an immune system that is older than their chronological years.
What is Metabolism?
Our metabolism represents all the chemical processes that occur in the body; they are the functions that keep us alive and our organs working normally, such as breathing, digestion, and cellular repair. To do this, energy is required, and the minimum amount needed to carry out all the chemical processes is called the basal metabolic rate (BMR).
Four factors influence your metabolism:
- Resting metabolic rate (RMR) – how many calories you burn to function while sleeping.
- Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) – how many calories you burn from regular activities (standing, fidgeting).
- Thermic effect of food (TEF) – how many calories you burn from eating and digesting food.
- Exercise – how many calories you burn through exercise.
Your height, muscle mass, hormones, and age also affect the speed of your metabolism.
Metabolism and Aging
Research tells us that our metabolism slows as we get older. Reasons for this include:
Older people are typically less active.
Sarcopenia (natural loss of muscle mass as we age).
Increased muscle mass means a higher RMR because muscle cells are more active than fat cells. So, as we age and naturally lose our muscle mass, our RMR reflects this.
The metabolic process slows naturally.
Our RMR slows naturally because the main functions that control this become less efficient as we age. One study between older and younger adults recorded an 18% difference meaning the older adults were burning 101 fewer calories per day.
The Immunosenescence Link to Metabolism
The reason why our metabolism and our immune system are closely linked is that our body’s ability to defend itself against pathogens depends on energy.
Interestingly, immune cells can reuse “waste” products from metabolization to be more efficient. For example, neutrophils (a type of white blood cell) produce hydrogen peroxide, which the immune system uses to kill pathogens.
The intricate link is far more detailed, but this area of immunometabolism is fast becoming a popular study subject in the search for causes of disease and better medicines.
Recent research on manipulating the metabolic pathways of T-cells, cancer cells, or immune suppressor cells can suppress tumor growth and increase anti-cancer immunity.
The delicate balance has an effect on our risk of diseases, including non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. So, by understanding our immunometabolism more, we can combat those diseases.
How to Increase Metabolism – 6 Easy Ways
You can do many things to help boost your metabolism and combat the effects of aging on your metabolism and your immunosenescence. Here’s how to boost metabolism:
1. Do High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
This training technique is all about extreme anaerobic exercise with brief rest periods in between. As well as burning energy while you exercise, HIIT induces your body to burn kilojoules after exercise, known as the “afterburn effect,” as your muscles use energy to recover. In fact, 45-minutes of vigorous exercise can increase metabolic rate for 14 hours after exercising.
2. Get Enough Sleep
Does your metabolism slow down when you sleep? Lack of sleep can slow your metabolism but luckily, catching up on sleep can reverse this effect. A study on resting metabolic rate (RMR) showed it was significantly reduced after sleep restriction and rebounded to normal levels after one night of 12-hour recovery sleep. With just 4 hours of sleep per night, metabolism dropped 2.6% compared to people who got 10 hours per night.
3. Try Weight Lifting
By exercising and building muscle mass, you can speed up your metabolism. The harder your muscles work, the more energy they burn, and regular exercise teach your body to burn kilojoules at a faster rate, even when at rest. In a study of older adults whose metabolism was tested before and after 26 weeks of resistance training, their resting energy expenditure increased by 6.8%.
4. Drink Green Tea
5. Take Supplements
Dietary supplements and their effect on metabolism and weight loss have been the basis of studies for some time. It is generally known that supplements with a combination of thermogenic ingredients can increase RMR, but that depends on the active ingredients and the combination.
6. Eat Protein-Rich Foods
Your body burns more calories when it digests and absorbs protein into the body. Known as the thermic effect of food (TEF), protein has a higher TEF than foods high in fat and carbohydrates. Also, because protein is essential for muscle health, especially in older adults, it helps combat an aging metabolism by protecting muscle mass and fighting sarcopenia.
Despite our metabolism slowing down as we age and affecting our immune system, there are ways we can combat this and reduce our immune age.
If you have questions about immunosenescence or any conditions discussed here, connect with us and learn more.
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