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What is metabolism, and how does it affect weight loss? This is a question often asked by those who are dieting, or otherwise trying to engage in a healthier and more active lifestyle.

The answer is fairly simple: the word ‘metabolism’ refers to the speed at which the body converts food into energy. Since more calories are burned at higher metabolic rates, a fast metabolism is one of the key factors in a successful weight loss program. Read on for a debunking of five metabolism myths.

  1. A person’s metabolism runs at a fixed rate, and can’t be changed.

The basal metabolic rate (BMR) is based on how many calories are needed to maintain basic bodily functions during a 24-hour period. However, when you factor in exercise and other physical activity, you increase the number of calories that are burned per day, thereby speeding the metabolism. This doesn’t mean that nonstop exercise is the answer, however; see #3 for more detail.

  1. A heavy cardio routine is the best way to boost metabolism.

In order to increase your BMR, you need to build muscles that will burn calories even when the body is at rest. This means you should put more emphasis on resistance training, such as push-ups or weight lifting.

  1. The more you exercise, the faster your metabolism will be.

While exercise is an important part of any weight loss regimen, too much of it can actually slow the metabolism, thereby impeding the process. Why? Because any sudden, dramatic increase in physical activity creates too much stress on the body, sending it into “survival mode.”

  1. Eating less will make your metabolism stronger.

In fact, the opposite is true: The more often you fuel your body, the more efficient it will be at burning calories. Just be sure to fill up on the right kinds of foods: lean protein, fiber, leafy vegetables, and healthy fats.

  1. A low-fat diet is the quickest route to weight loss.

Actually, low-fat foods tend to make up for the difference by adding sugar or other sweeteners, which take longer to metabolize. Instead of looking for the words “low-fat” on labels, try to incorporate more whole foods into your diet–they’ll provide better fuel for those workouts, anyway.