Previously, you may have thought metabolism was simply how fast or slow you burn calories. However, while that certainly is a role of the metabolism, metabolic health is much more than that.
Metabolic health is key to preventing numerous chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and even anxiety. Unfortunately, most Americans are metabolically unhealthy, and even worse – they don’t know it.
Let’s take a look at metabolic health and how it relates to a number of health factors and habits – plus we’ll provide 4 easy tips for how to improve your metabolic health today!
What Is Metabolic Health
Metabolic health is a general measure of overall health marked by optimal levels of five key measurements including:
- Blood sugar
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol
- Blood pressure
- Waist circumference
Optimal levels of these five measurements are associated with a low risk of cardiometabolic disease. Cardiometabolic diseases include heart attack, stroke, insulin resistance, diabetes, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Poor metabolic health, on the other hand, increases one’s risk of these diseases, as well as the risk of certain cancers, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and pregnancy complications. In addition, poor metabolic health can cause daily struggles like fatigue, brain fog, sleep apnea, anxiety, and lower immunity.
What is Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome occurs when three or more of the five key measurements of metabolic health are outside of the optimal range. For instance, someone with low HDL (the good) cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar levels will have metabolic syndrome.
Having metabolic syndrome raises your risk of metabolic disorders, such as Type 2 diabetes, and other serious health conditions, such as heart attack and stroke. The good news is that it is preventable and treatable.
What are the risk factors for metabolic syndrome?
The risk factors for metabolic syndrome include unhealthy levels of blood sugar, triglycerides, HDL cholesterol, blood pressure, or waist circumference. Specifically, people with metabolic syndrome have at least three of the following risk factors:
- A large waistline or abdominal obesity
- High triglyceride levels
- Low HDL or “good” cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- High fasting blood sugar
Optimal levels for these measures of health include:
- Fasting blood sugar of less than 100 mg/dL
- Triglycerides less than 150 mg/dL
- HDL cholesterol equal to or higher than 40 mg/dL in men and 50 mg/dL in women
- Blood pressure of less than 120/80 mmHg
- Waist circumference less than 102 cm for men and 88 cm for women
These measurements have been adjusted over time to reflect what the latest research says is optimal for disease prevention and health. To be metabolically healthy, levels should be in the optimal range without the use of medication.
People with a family history of diabetes, high blood pressure, or metabolic syndrome have a greater risk of developing issues. In addition, a sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy diet, poor sleep, and being overweight will all increase your risk of metabolic syndrome.
What is a symptom of metabolic syndrome?
A symptom of metabolic syndrome is not always obvious. You may experience symptoms such as increased thirst, blurred vision, tiredness, or weakness if you have high blood sugar. Additionally, you may recognize that you have a waistline over the optimal level. However, in order to get a metabolic syndrome diagnosis, you will need to visit your doctor to get a blood test.
After measuring levels of glucose, triglycerides, and HDL cholesterol in the blood, as well as blood pressure, a doctor will diagnose metabolic syndrome. In addition, they may also run a complete metabolic panel to test levels of essential nutrients and minerals in the blood. This test will also help spot early signs of liver disease or diabetes.
How To Treat Metabolic Syndrome
Deciding how to treat metabolic syndrome will depend on which metabolic factors fall into an unhealthy range for an individual person. However, a good recommendation for nearly anybody is to exercise and maintain a healthy diet which will help benefit all key measurements.
In addition, a doctor may recommend blood pressure lowering medication, glucose monitoring devices, or a metabolic syndrome diet full of foods packed with good cholesterol and low in saturated fats, sugar, and refined carbohydrates.
How To Reverse Metabolic Syndrome
With proper treatment and lifestyle changes, it is possible to reverse metabolic syndrome. For instance, if you have high blood pressure and low HDL cholesterol, you can reduce blood pressure and raise good cholesterol through regular exercise. In fact, exercise can help improve all metabolic risk factors, for example by lowering triglycerides, and blood glucose while reducing one’s waistline. Improving these health markers won’t happen overnight but over time it can reverse metabolic syndrome.
How To Improve Metabolic Health
Learning how to improve metabolic health can benefit everyone. Here are 4 ways to improve all markers for your metabolic health simultaneously.
Exercise has many benefits for metabolic health. It can promote weight loss, lower blood pressure and triglycerides, and raise good cholesterol. Plus, it can help you maintain blood sugar balance, sleep better, and reduce stress. By adding this one element into your daily routine, you can dramatically improve your metabolic health.
The US Department of Health and Human Services currently recommends adults get 150–300 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. However, research shows that more exercise is more effective at reducing one’s risk of disease and death. Consider these four exercises that are great for cardiovascular fitness and aim to get a minimum of 150 minutes per week.
Remember to always talk with your doctor before starting any new exercise regimen.
Limit Foods that Spike Blood Sugar
Your blood sugar is highly influenced by what foods you eat. Foods that can cause a blood sugar spike include refined carbohydrates, sweets, and processed foods like potato chips. Research shows a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in lean protein, fibrous vegetables, healthy fats, and whole grains, is beneficial for the prevention and treatment of metabolic syndrome. By limiting foods that spike blood sugar and eating the Mediterranean way, it’s possible to maintain lower average blood sugar levels.
Reach for vegetables and lean meats, and consider these healthy snacks that won’t spike your blood sugar when hunger strikes.
Smoking dramatically increases your risk of nearly all diseases, including metabolic disorders. The link between smoking and metabolic syndrome is complex. However, nonsmokers have the highest rates of metabolic health. If you need help to quit, follow these tips to quit smoking—within hours of quitting, your body will begin to recover.
Sleep is critical to metabolic health. Poor sleep can raise blood pressure, increase insulin resistance, and raise levels of cortisol, all of which contribute to metabolic disease as well as overall poor health. According to the sleep foundation, 7-9 hours is the optimal amount of sleep for adults. Make a goal to target this range and stick to a routine that helps you get enough sleep.
Attaining metabolic health means making healthy choices daily. Over time, those choices add up, and key health measurements improve. When they do, the risk of disease is dramatically reduced.