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Exercises That Can Increase Your Metabolism

Regular exercise can be a fun way to improve your overall health and it can raise your metabolic rate. But, which type of workout will lead to the biggest increase in your metabolism? In this article, you’ll learn that and more!

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Table of Contents

How Exercising Boosts Metabolism

The type of exercise you do, and the intensity, can influence how much your metabolism has to work. Combining a mixture of cardio and strength training workouts will help your body burn more energy because it taps into several different energy pathways within a short period of time. Once your body burns through easy-to-access glucose stores, it then taps into fat stores for energy (burning more fat). 

Other Health Benefits of Exercising

There are known health risks linked to being sedentary, including increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, bone diseases (like osteoporosis), and depression.¹ Adding more physical activity to your routine can decrease all of those risks! 

Sometimes the most significant barrier to working out is a lack of time (because many of us are sedentary while working). If you have a limited window to work out, you probably want to choose an intense activity to get the most benefits from exercise. 

To minimize risk of injury, start with shorter workouts that aren’t as intense. As your stamina and strength increases, you can increase the length and intensity of your workouts. The Center for Disease Control recommends at least 150 minutes of exercise per week, plus an additional two days with strength training workouts.

The Best Types of Exercise for a Faster Metabolism

Workouts that combine both cardio and strength training exercises have been proven to be the most impactful on your metabolism. Below is a list of different workouts you could try; see what fits best for you. 

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HIIT

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a workout that consists of short bouts of high-intensity exercises. Working at a high intensity will make your body burn fuel at a greater pace, thus increasing your metabolic demands. 

You don’t need to spend a long time doing these workouts. People can experience metabolism-boosting benefits in as little as 15-minute workouts.² Signos created their own ten-minute HIIT workout you can try at home.

You will love this type of exercise if you: 

  • Enjoy working out at a high-intensity level. 
  • Fear getting bored in the same exercises and crave variety.
  • Are seeking a community of other like-minded exercise enthusiasts. There are many HIIT gyms and groups you can join.

Metabolic Workouts

Metabolic workouts are sometimes called metabolic conditioning. The exercises are done in short bursts and range from medium intensity to high intensity. This type of workout sounds similar to HIIT, but the key difference is the level of intensity. All HIIT workouts fit into Metcon, but not all Metcon workouts are high enough intensity to be classified as HIIT. 

Changing between two levels of intensity maximizes your metabolic efforts because you are tapping into two energy pathways at once: your fast-acting phosphagen pathway for instant energy, and your glycolytic pathway for short to medium bursts of activity such as a three-minute exercise circuit. 

You will love this type of exercise if you: 

  • Have a small window of time to work out and want to see results quickly.
  • You love variety and changing up your routines. 
  • You feel comfortable pushing yourself. 

Cardio

Aerobic exercise, also called cardio, improves your heart health and can bump up your metabolism. Some of the health benefits linked to cardio include a decrease in blood pressure, improved circulation in the body, a lowered heart rate at rest, and lowered blood glucose levels.³

Examples of cardio exercise include anything that increases your heart rate: running, walking at a brisk pace, swimming, and playing hockey. It can even be active chores around the house (depending on how much you exert yourself), like mopping floors or going up and down the stairs.

You will love this type of exercise if you: 

  • Enjoy seeing progress over time. 
  • Want to decompress by spending a bit more time on your workouts. 
  • Love doing sports and activities instead of circuits with gym equipment.  
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Weight Lifting

Weight lifting, also called resistance training, contributes to building muscle and strength. Muscle is metabolically active tissue that requires energy to maintain, meaning it indirectly burns more calories compared to fat and revs up your metabolism. Muscle mass also helps to efficiently convert energy into fuel. Pushing yourself by safely increasing your weights raises the intensity of your exercise (it’s not just cardio that gets your heart pumping!) and increases your metabolic activity by burning through your fat stores, even after your workout is done. 

To get started you can use light gym equipment such as dumbbells or kettlebells. You can even start strength training by using your own body weight. Examples of this would include yoga and pilates. They both put you in physical poses that challenge your muscles with no added equipment. 

You will love this type of exercise if you: 

  • Enjoy repetition
  • Prioritize building strength. 
  • Feel comfortable using different types of exercise equipment. 

How hard do you have to work to increase your metabolism? 

There are a few different ways to tell if you are working out at an intensity that will help your metabolism. An easy way to do this is to track your heart rate and know what target zones you need to hit based on your max heart rate..

Use this equation to calculate your max heart rate: 

  • 220 - (your age) = Maximum heart rate in beats per minute (bpm). 
    ◦ An example for a 45-year-old would be 220 - 45 = 175bpm
    ◦ So the max heart rate for a 45-year-old is 175pm

Here are the three target heart rate zones outlined by the National Academy of Sports Medicine: 

  • Zone 1: 65-75% of your maximum heart rate. This includes walking or light jogging. 
  • Zone 2: 76-85% of your max heart rate. This includes a group exercise class and spinning. 
  • Zone 3: 86-95% of your max heart rate. This includes sprinting and HIIT workouts.
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How Long Does the "Afterburn Effect" From Exercise Last?

The more intensely you work out, the longer it will take your body to recover back to its state of rest. During this time your metabolism will still be fired up and active, and will continue to burn calories as it dwindles down again. Sometimes this is called the “afterburn effect”. The scientific name for the afterburn effect is excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). 

In 2002 a very small study was done with seven men. They were instructed to complete resistance training circuits, and have their metabolic rate measured immediately after the workout and then again at different hourly intervals. The study showed that the men were still showing elevated metabolic function up to 38 hours after exercising.⁴

A similar study was done on women in 2021. The participants were told to either do resistance training above 80% effort or HIIT. Both groups experienced higher EPOC rates 14 hours after working out. The results suggest the intensity of the workout will be the greatest influence on your metabolic rate, not the specific exercises.⁵

How Often Should You Exercise to Maximize the Metabolism-boosting Benefits?

After reading about all the benefits of exercise, it can sound tempting to dive headfirst into a high-intensity regime. But, before you do that, remember that your body will need time to rest and fully recover between workouts. 

Exercising at a high intensity every single day can do more harm than good (because it’s hard for the body to recover).. Instead, try to include high-intensity sessions three times per week and prioritize rest in between your workouts. 

Keep in mind resting does not mean staying sedentary; it just means that you aren’t pushing yourself to the limits. You can still enjoy a leisurely bike ride, a fun swim, or partake in a lower-intensity yoga class. Light daily movement is encouraged, but too much vigorous exercise can increase your risk of injury, which is the last thing you want. 

The Takeaway

Being active is a great way to naturally boost your metabolism. Even after you’re done working out, your system will still be burning calories as it recovers and returns to its comfortable resting state. 

Try to find exercises that are both enjoyable and fit into your schedule. If you are pressed for time, try to include shorter workouts that are more intense to achieve the greatest impact on your metabolism. If you have the luxury of time and enjoy having a chance to unwind, you can achieve the same benefits while working at moderate intensity for longer periods of time. 

Motivation can be a barrier when it comes to regular exercise, especially when you are first starting out. If you struggle to consistently show up to your workouts, consider finding a workout buddy or signing up for class. Staying accountable can be hard work, and if you feel better leaning on others for a bit of support, do it! 

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References

  1. Park, J. H., Moon, J. H., Kim, H. J., Kong, M. H., & Oh, Y. H. (2020). Sedentary Lifestyle: Overview of Updated Evidence of Potential Health Risks. Korean journal of family medicine, 41(6), 365–373. https://doi.org/10.4082/kjfm.20.0165 
  2. Gibala, Martin J., McGee, Sean L. Metabolic Adaptations to Short-term High-Intensity Interval Training: A Little Pain for a Lot of Gain?. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews: April 2008 - Volume 36 - Issue 2 - p 58-63 doi: 10.1097/JES.0b013e318168ec1f 
  3. Nystoriak, M. A. (2018). Cardiovascular Effects and Benefits of Exercise. Frontiers. Retrieved October 12, 2022, from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fcvm.2018.00135/full  
  4. Schuenke, M. D., Mikat, R. P., & McBride, J. M. (2002). Effect of an acute period of resistance exercise on excess post-exercise oxygen consumption: implications for body mass management. European journal of applied physiology, 86(5), 411–417. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-001-0568-y 
  5. Greer, B. K., O'Brien, J., Hornbuckle, L. M., & Panton, L. B. (2021). EPOC Comparison Between Resistance Training and High-Intensity Interval Training in Aerobically Fit Women. International journal of exercise science, 14(2), 1027–1035.

About the Author

Julia Zakrzewski is a Registered Dietitian and nutrition writer. She has a background in primary care, clinical nutrition, and nutrition education. She has been practicing dietetics for four years.
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Please note: The Signos team is committed to sharing insightful and actionable health articles that are backed by scientific research, supported by expert reviews, and vetted by experienced health editors. The Signos blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider. Read more about our editorial process and content philosophy here.

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