Video: Cycling Taoiseach Leo Varadkar gets shock ‘metabolic age’ reading

Posted on: February 7th, 2019

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has lost three stone since his early days in national politics. But despite cycling, swimming and running regularly, he’s been told he’s not as fit as he thinks. His ‘metabolic age’ is a decade more than his actual age. But what does ‘metabolic age’ mean anyway?


Despite cycling, running and swimming very often, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has been told he has a metabolic age of 53 years, despite the fact he only recently celebrated his 40th birthday.

Varadkar was among a group of well known people who had their metabolic age assessed as part of the RTE Operation Transformation TV series.

And the Taoiseach wasn’t impressed with being told his body was that of a 53-year-old rather than his younger chronological age.

“I’m surprised by that,” he said adding that, as a doctor himself, he wondered about how the assessment was done.

“I’m kind of wondering what the science is behind it, to be honest. I’ll have to see the breakdown.”

Others to have their metabolic age assessed were former sports commentator Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh who is aged 88 years but had a metabolic aged of 73 years.

Camogie player Anna Geary (31) and singer Jake Carter (20) both had a metabolic age of 16 years.

Operation Transformation presenter Kathryn Thomas who, like Varadkar, is aged 40 years had a metabolic age of 25.

Our metabolic age essentially seeks to correlate our age in years with a particular weight and level of fitness. So if we are healthy and fit, our metabolic age should match our age in years.

Somebody very fit, like dedicated cyclists, should have a metabolic age that’s lower/younger than their age in years.

A person’s metabolic age is based on their Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR. That’s 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 is an emerging indicator of health and fitness in that it examines the body’s muscle and fat composition to assess physical fitness rather than relying on the much cruder method of weight alone.

Because muscles burn more energy than fat, the fitter and healthier we are the lower our metabolic age will be. An older metabolic age means you have work to do.

Is metabolic age worth worrying about

Prof Niall Moyna, the head of Health & Human Performance at Dublin City University, said he was surprised Varadkar’s metabolic age was so high as he had clearly turned to exercise in a big way in recent years.

“He takes his health very seriously. And he is a very, very big guy as well who you would expect to carry a lot of muscle mass so I was surprised with his,” Moyna said.

“Our metabolic rate decreases through our life; about two to three per cent per decade. It decreases primarily because he lose muscle mass as we age. And that’s why I was surprised to see his was so poor.”

He said the Operation Transformation metabolic age test was carried out by passing a small current through the body. And because muscle is a good conductor but fat is not, levels of fat and lean body mass can be read.

The current passes through the body when the person being tested holds the scales they step onto, allowing the rate at which the body impedes the current to be established.

However, a person looking to do the test properly should be rested for 24 hours beforehand and not have done any exercise during that period or eaten for 12 hours.

But Moyna said because bigger people carried fat better than smaller people, it appeared Varadkar was carrying more fat than he realised.

But he stressed the test was a “guestimation”. The best way to reduce metabolic age was to increase muscle mass and reduce fat.



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