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Your metabolism isn't just controlled by what you eat and how often you exercise. Everyday habits —even those seemingly unrelated to your weight— can cause it to sputter. And when you burn fewer calories throughout the day because your fat-torching furnace isn't hot enough, you're at risk for gaining flab.
Avoid these mistakes and you can keep your metabolism humming along.
Your foods aren't fiery enough
When in doubt, sprinkle on hot sauce: a new study in the journal Appetite found that when people added red chili pepper to dinner, they reported feeling fuller and ate as much as 30 percent less compared to a control condition with a mild meal. Peppers pack capsaicin, which may speed metabolism by controlling the release of appetite-regulating hormones as well as increasing levels of stress hormones that decrease desire to eat.
You sit a lot
It's no surprise that lounging on your duff in front of the computer at work or TV at night can pack on the pounds. But even in active men who met exercise guidelines, sitting for three hours or more per day was associated with a 74 percent increased risk for metabolic syndrome—a cluster of risk factors for diabetes and heart disease that includes obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol—compared to guys who sat for less than two hours daily. The reason for the metabolic disruption? Muscles don't have to work so hard—burning less fat—and prolonged sitting may also lead to poor insulin sensitivity.
You don't wash produce
Before you bite into that apple, think: did you give it a thorough wash first? A 2012 study in Environmental Health Perspectives connected environmental pollutants, like pesticides commonly used on fruits and vegetables, to obesity and metabolic syndrome. The researchers found that, in lab cells, the pollutants were stored in fat tissue where they cause inflammation and affect pathways that regulate metabolism. Buy organic when you can—and follow the FDA's guidelines for cleaning: cut away any damaged or bruised areas first, then wash thoroughly under running water only. (Skip the soap or produce washes.)
You skip washing your hands sometimes
Researchers at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University discovered a link between a common respiratory virus called adenovirus-36 and obesity, as the virus appears to turn stem cells into fat cells. To cut your risk of viral infections, do what your mother always told you to do and wash your hands—something other research indicates only 5 percent of us do right, anyway.
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