Q&A: Everything you need to know about your metabolic age

‘Kinda wondering about the science’ behind the latest measurement?

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was surprised to discover he had a metabolic age of 53 on RTÉ's Operation Transformation programme.

Having just turned 40, Mr Varadkar’s first response was to query the science behind the measurement: “Surprised to hear that, kinda wondering about the science.”

What is the significance of metabolic age?

Metabolic age is based on your basal metabolic rate, commonly known as BMR. This is the amount of energy or kilocalories you burn a day to keep your body functioning, before you do any activity, compared with the average in your age group.


It shifts the focus away from weight alone as a health indicator, to looking at the body’s composition of muscle and fat.

Is there any science behind it?

Typical metabolic age testing accurately takes into account visceral fat around the stomach, weight, muscle mass and percentage body fat, by standing on scales and attaching electrodes to the hands and feet. Combining the data in the electronic device yields your metabolic age.

Does it matter?

Muscle burns more than fat, so the fitter and healthier you are the better and lower your metabolic age. An older metabolic age may mean there is work to be done on fitness or diet – in some instances, there can be another contributing medial problem.

Metabolic testing is significantly more accurate than tests used in the past. A dietician can use a person’s height, weight and age to estimate metabolic rate, but the results are not as reliable.

If your metabolic age is lower than your actual age, it means your body is in good health. If your metabolic age is higher than your actual age, it may mean you have health problems or may need to change your eating and exercising habits.

Can you improve your score?

Yes. A combination of diet and exercise can over time improve your score in most cases. As one gets older, metabolism slows down and maximising muscle mass may become a more important priority.

Are all tests the same?

Your BMR can be calculated by range of devices now widely available. More streamlined devices cost between €70 and €350 and are available in pharmacies, gyms and sports clubs. In hospitals and clinical settings much more sophisticated technology is used capable of taking a wider range of measurements.

Operation Transformation working with the Irish Pharmacy Union offered free tests this week at over 430 pharmacies across the country – the device used was a "body composition analyser" made by scales manufacturer Tanita, which is supplied by the Irish company Pharmed.

What should tests cost?

Typically, a test in a pharmacy can cost up to €5, though some outlets offer the service free of charge. In the UK, it cost the equivalent of €50 with a consultation. In a clinical setting, which tests can including cardiovascular health assessments, the cost is considerably higher.

Who should do the test?

Determining your BMR is useful information, especially if in a weight-loss programme or seeking to improve fitness. So the test can help make better use of a workout by helping to determine what form of exercise works best.

It’s easier to manage your weight when you know how many calories you burn daily – and it can vary depending on the individual. With this assessment, you learn how your natural metabolism is helping or hindering goals.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times