The best way to avoid gaining weight as you age has little to do with your metabolism, according to science

  • Putting on a bit of weight as you get older is fairly normal, but there are simple ways to avoid it.
  • Contrary to popular belief, none of these involves trying to "boost" your metabolism, which actually doesn't really budge.
  • Here's what to do instead.

Like a favorite car that's starting to show its age, many of us begin to put on weight as we get older.

"She's not what she used to be!" I heard a friend say the other day, as he lovingly slapped his belly in the way one gives the hood of their old clunker an affectionate tap.

Many people blame a sluggish metabolism for the weight gain. But as it turns out, our metabolisms aren't the real culprit when it comes to the pounds that seems to creep on with each passing decade.

In fact, age-related weight gain has far more to do with our activity patterns than it does with our metabolism, which barely budges after age 30, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Our metabolism, the term for the calorie-burning process our bodies do naturally, shifts based on the various activities we do throughout the day.

Unfortunately, the rate at which we digest our meals and burn energy can't be altered significantly enough to cause weight loss. (No, spicy foods and green teas won't move the needle.)

But as we age, we also get less active while sticking to roughly the same diet. Researchers say this, not our metabolic rate, is the real culprit for the pounds we pack on as we get older.

RELATED: Foods that won't make you gain weight 

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Foods that won't make you gain weight
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Foods that won't make you gain weight

Popcorn

Calories per air-popped cup: 30

If it's not smothered in buttered, doused in seasoning or salt, popcorn makes for a great snack. If air-popped, the light, low-calorie snack can be a good source of fiber, without the cholesterol. Plus, it's considered a whole grain! 

Celery

Calories per stalk: 6

Since celery is mostly water, the fibrous plant has been known to offer many health benefits.  

Cottage cheese

Calories per 1 cup: 222
Calories per 1 cup, low-fat: 163

A great source of calcium and vitamins, cottage cheese is a go-to snack for many looking to maintain their weight. High in protein (28 grams in 1 cup of low-fat) it's recommended highly by nutritionists and athletes. The calcium-packed snack will help you feel full as it is "associated with metabolic processes that reduce fat accumulation and accelerate fat loss," according to Authority Nutrition.

Blueberries

Calories per cup: 85

The fruit is low in saturated fat, is a great source of antioxidants and dietary fiber -- and thus, can be a healthy snack for those looking to maintain or even lose weight.

Grapefruit

With only 52 calories in half of the fruit, the citrus makes for a refreshing breakfast or snack. Packed with antioxidants, vitamins and nutrients, the fruit is known to boost metabolism and lower insulin levels -- thus, actually burning fat! 

Chicken and other lean meats 

Calories in 3 oz of skinless chicken: 142 calories

A healthy source of protein, chicken helps fill you up while giving you energy. Fried chicken doesn't count! 

Quinoa

Calories in 1 cup, cooked: 222

Not only can quinoa help you maintain your weight, but it can help you lose weight as well. Packed with iron and a plethora of amino acids, it can help you say lean and full. 

Salmon 

Calories in a 3 oz serving: 120

Salmon is one of the healthiest foods out there, packed with nutrients and vitamins such as vitamin D. It'll also fill you up, without making you crash. 

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Instead, move more

To avoid weight gain, adding regular movement to your day is crucial. That could involve taking the stairs at work or hitting the gym a few times a week — every little bit counts.

In fact, new research published this spring suggests that to achieve better health and reduce your risk of death from any cause, any kind of movement is better than little or none. That means any effort that gets you moving and breathing — whether it's a twice-weekly heart-pounding kickboxing class or a 30-minute walk to work — has measurable benefits for your brain and body.

RELATED: Healthy snacks under 100 calories 

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Healthy Snacks in 100 Calories or Less
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Healthy Snacks in 100 Calories or Less

In between meals, these healthy snacks are easy and delicious ways to satisfy your hunger.

Popcorn

Popcorn is an awesome snack that you can have fun with. You can enjoy 1.5 cups of regular microwave popcorn or even 1 cup of caramel popcorn without feeling any guilt.

Image Credit: Mark Weiss/Getty Images

Fresh Oranges

One orange can offer you sweet or tart juice, nutrients and an amazing aroma, all under 100 calories.

Image Credit: Adam Gault/Getty Images

Strawberry-Banana Smoothie Pops

Turn a strawberry-banana smoothie, or your favorite blended concoction, into freezer pops for a cool treat.

Get the Recipe: Strawberry-Banana Smoothie Pops

Devilish Egg

A hard-boiled egg is a protein-packed snack on its own—give it a little more pizzazz with a bit of mayo and mustard on top.

Get the Recipe: Devilish Egg

Chocolate-Banana Grahams

A graham cracker smeared with Nutella and topped with banana and coconut is a light way to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Get the Recipe: Chocolate-Banana Grahams

Apple Sauce

Enjoy a childhood favorite. Get a half cup of unsweetened apple sauce, sit down and reminisce on the good times.

Image Credit: Smneedham/Getty Images

Frogs on a Log

Give this childhood treat a savory twist by swapping the peanut butter and raisins for cream cheese and olives. For a spicy snack, try chopped pickled jalapenos instead of olives.

Get the Recipe: Frogs on a Log

Plain Bagel

Half of a medium plain bagel can be a quick, satisfying snack during the work day.

Image Credit: Donald Erickson/Getty Images

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That study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, used data on physical activity and death rates from national surveys of more than 4,800 adults. It found that people with more "bouted" or concentrated activity (like a fitness class or gym session) fared no better than people who clocked the same amount of exercise in tiny bits throughout the day (like walking to the train or taking the dog for a stroll).

"The key message based on the results presented is that total physical activity (i.e., of any bout duration) provides important health benefits," the authors wrote in their paper.

NOW WATCH: What happens to your body when you start exercising regularly

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