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3 lifestyle changes that can boost your metabolism and prevent weight gain

Your physical activity, diet and sleep habits can help — or hurt — your metabolism.

You packed on some pounds after you turned 40 — so your metabolism must be to blame, right?

A recent study challenged that assumption, finding that in mid-life, lifestyle factors may be more to blame than a decline in our metabolism. The study, published in the journal Science, found that metabolism peaks at the age of one, and slowly declines until the age of 20, where it plateaus for the next 40 years — and then declines each year after the age of 60.

NBC News medical contributor Dr. Natalie Azar says that while your baseline metabolic rate may not change in this 40-year span, the factors involved in boosting other aspects of your metabolism likely have.

"Although your baseline resting metabolic rate may not have changed between ages 20 and 60, the factors involved in boosting other aspects of your metabolism — when you are not resting — likely changed, lowering your ability to metabolize fat, maximize the caloric burn from exercise, increase energy-burning muscle mass and get quality rest to enable metabolic processes,” Dr. Azar told TODAY. “I do not think there are enough nuanced distinctions based on age to divide by decade, however these four components of behavior can definitely affect your metabolism and overall well being.”

So if you’ve noticed your weight creeping up in those mid-life years, lifestyle factors like your diet, exercise and sleep habits may be to blame. For most of us, these things are within our control. Here are changes to your daily routine that can boost your metabolism and prevent weight gain.

1. Physical activity

“Consistent inactivity is the biggest detriment to your metabolism,” said Azar. “Fat metabolism refers to the type of fuel you are burning during resting metabolism and this decreases when you are sedentary. It’s necessary to take at least 8,500 steps per day — throughout the day, rather than all at once — in order to maintain adequate fat metabolism.”

Mixing up your workouts is also an important way to maximize the metabolic boost you get from exercise. "You should mix up your weekly workout program to include both strength-training sessions and HIIT-training sessions, as both have been shown to have statistically significant impacts on your metabolism,” said Azar. She emphasized the importance of also engaging in spurts of activity throughout your day, in addition to doing longer workouts. 

How to use physical activity to boost metabolism:

  • Take at least 8,500 steps per day.
  • Mix up your exercises, including strength training and HIIT.
  • Engage in spurts of activity throughout the day.

RELATED: Torch calories and build muscle with this 31-day HIIT plan

2. Diet 

The most important diet consideration when it comes to metabolism? “Don’t forget to eat!” said Azar. “Digesting food actually increases your metabolism for a few hours, because it takes caloric energy to process the nutrients you eat. This is called the thermic effect of food (TEF).” Azar clarified that that doesn’t mean you should eat more to boost metabolism, but what you eat during your meals is important. She highlighted protein as an important macronutrient. Research shows that protein-rich foods can lead to bigger boosts in metabolism because protein causes the largest rise in TEF, increasing your overall metabolic rate by 15% to 30%

She also stressed drinking enough water throughout the day, which can provide a brief metabolic boost. Research shows that drinking 0.5 liters of water can increase resting metabolism by 24% for about an hour. And you may want to add some ice: Research shows that drinking cold water can boost metabolism because of it requires more energy expenditure to heat it to body temperature. 

How to use diet to boost metabolism:

  • Don't skip meals.
  • Increase protein intake.
  • Drink cold water.

3. Sleep

“Sleeping fewer than seven hours on a regular basis is associated with numerous negative health implications, like weight gain, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and stroke, depression, impaired immune function, increased pain, impaired performance, and greater risk of death, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society,” said Azar. Research also shows that lack of sleep quality and quantity have been shown to have a detrimental impact on metabolism.

How to use sleep to boost metabolism

  • Get at least 7 hours of sleep each night.
  • Make sure your room is dark and quiet.
  • Avoid large meals, coffee and alcohol before bed.