What is Metabolic Health?
According to this NHANES study, being metabolically fit requires one to:
- Have an ideal waist measurement
- Are not prediabetic in their blood sugar
- A normal, not hypertensive blood pressure
- Normal blood fats (triglycerides & HDL)
- Do not take medications for any of these issues
The study by NHANES also showed that only 1 in 8 Americans are actually considered metabolically healthy. These factors directly correlate to increased risk for developing metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is a variety of conditions that occur together and increase a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes or a cardiovascular disease. Although there are theories that metabolic syndrome could be directly related to genetics, there isn’t a clear-cut explanation for its causes.
The American Heart Association states for diagnosis of metabolic syndrome three or more of the following symptoms or conditions would be present:
- Central (abdominal) obesity – excess fat in and around the stomach (abdomen)
- Raised blood pressure (hypertension)
- High blood triglycerides
- Low levels of high density lipoproteins (HDL) – the ‘good’ cholesterol
- Impaired fasting glucose (IFG) or diabetes. IFG occurs when blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes.
Metabolic Syndrome and Prediabetes
The CDC states that 43.3% of Americans are diabetic or prediabetic. Metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes impair the body’s ability to metabolize glucose (sugar in the blood). When this happens the risk for insulin resistance (the body’s inability to effectively use insulin) is increased. The increased levels of insulin can then lead to weight gain, heart disease, stroke and cancer. Chronically high levels of insulin can also cause your cells to become desensitized to its effects.
Insulin resistance over the long term will result in Metabolic Dysfunction. The most common cause is the consumption of too much nutrient-poor carbohydrates.
How to Eat for Optimal Metabolic Health
The good news is, changes to your nutrition and eating habits can drastically improve your metabolic health and help reduce your risk for metabolic syndrome.
Here is a list of foods to help support your metabolic health according to Healthline.com:
- Protein-Rich Foods: meat, fish, eggs, dairy, legumes, nuts and seeds, could help increase your metabolism for a few hours. Protein-rich diets also reduce the drop in metabolism often seen during weight loss by helping your body hold on to its muscle mass
- Iron, Zinc and Selenium-Rich Foods: meat, seafood, legumes, nuts and seeds in your daily menu. A diet too low in iron, zinc or selenium may reduce the ability of your thyroid gland to produce sufficient amounts of hormones which can lead to slowing down your metabolism.
- Water: drinking water may also temporarily boost metabolism by 24–30%
- Coffee: caffeine found in coffee can help increase metabolic rate by up to 11%. Caffeine found in coffee can also help your body burn fat for energy.
These changes can not only help to reduce your risk or even reverse metabolic syndrome but it can also lead to weight loss, regulated blood pressure, balanced cholesterol and maintain optimal glucose levels.
What Else Can You Do to Improve Metabolic Health?
Certain foods and nutrition practices might help to improve your metabolic health, however there are other steps you can take to also increase your metabolism and improve your metabolic health.
According to Medical News Today, these supplements can help to improve your metabolic health along with other body functions:
- B vitamins
- Vitamin D
Regular exercise that incorporates aerobics and resistance training has positive effects for overall health, but specifically your metabolic health. Regardless of what type of exercise you chose, as long as you are regularly exercising you will significantly reduce your risk for metabolic syndrome.
How do we find the sweet spot and ensure that we get enough—but not too much—physical activity? The best way to accomplish this is by focusing on three elements that can be expressed in the acronym SWAP: Stand, Walk and Push.
Goal: Stand for about half of the day.
- Use a standing desk at work if possible.
- Take standing breaks. Stand up for at least two minutes every 30 to 45 minutes.
- Try setting an alarm on your phone each time you come back from a break and sit down again, and do this until the break becomes second nature.
- Take a brief walk or do some light stretching.
- Stand up at long meetings. (If you’re worried about what your colleagues might think, just tell them you have a bad back!)
Goal: Walk 10,000 steps daily.
- Take walking meetings. If you have a meeting scheduled with someone in your office, why not suggest taking a walk while you do it?
- Use the stairs whenever possible. You might want to take the elevator if you work on the fiftieth floor of a building (at least some of the time), but do you really need to take it if you work on the third floor?
- Walk or bicycle to work. Get creative. If you live too far away to walk or ride exclusively, consider driving part of the way and walking or cycling for the remainder.
- Do your own chores. Rather than outsourcing cleaning, laundry, gardening, washing the car, and other household chores, do them yourself.
- Get a dog. Dogs need to be exercised regularly for optimal health, just like people. You might not be motivated to take a walk yourself, but if you have a dog, you’re more likely to do it.
- Choose a hobby that requires physical activity. Ballroom dancing, bowling, and cooking are fun choices, but it’s especially great to pick a hobby that gets you outdoors, like bird-watching, gardening, snorkeling, camping, or hunting.
Extra credit: work at a treadmill desk!
Goal: Push it for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, 75 minutes of vigorous activity, OR 30 minutes maximal or near-maximal activity each week.
150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week (like jogging, yoga, or dancing); 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week (like running, Zumba, or playing sports); or, 30 minutes of highest-intensity exercise per week (like sprinting, jumping rope, or resistance training)
More than this may not be necessary unless you enjoy it or have specific performance goals.
Be careful not to overtrain, which can worsen your health rather than improve it.
There are multiple ways you can reduce your risk for developing metabolic syndrome and improve your metabolic health. It all comes down to lifestyle changes and habits that you chose daily.