Metabolic health refers to a number of different health parameters associated with the metabolic system. The metabolic system, or metabolism, is the process that our bodies use to convert everything we drink and eat into the energy we need to fuel the many bodily processes that enable us to function. Essentially, this is the body’s fuel system; we put in fuel, and it converts it into energy. Let’s take a look at what being metabolically healthy entails, what happens when something goes wrong, and what we can do to ensure a healthy metabolic system.
How do we Define Metabolic Health?
There is no set parameter for measuring ‘metabolic health’ in the way that we measure other health-related data. The reason is that metabolic health may take into account a number of different measurable factors such as blood sugar levels, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, weight, waist circumference, and BMI. If a person has healthy levels or measurements of these factors (and maintains these healthy levels without the need for medical interventions such as medications or surgery), then they can be considered to have good metabolic health.
What are the Implications?
The implications of good metabolic health are a reduction in the risk of serious diseases such as type 2 diabetes, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. It may also lower the risk of certain types of cancer. As the body ages, these factors become increasingly important in helping to maintain general health.
What is Metabolic Syndrome?
Metabolic Syndrome is how we refer to poor metabolic health. This is a group of symptoms that point to a high risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke, and cardiovascular disease such as heart disease. So when sugar levels, cholesterol, blood pressure, etc., are abnormal, this is referred to as metabolic syndrome.
Who Is At Risk of Metabolic Syndrome?
There is a wide range of risk factors for metabolic syndrome, including the following:
- Age – as the body ages, metabolic health generally tends to deteriorate. The risk of metabolic syndrome and associated disease increases with age.
- Obesity – one of the biggest risk factors is being overweight. This risk is higher for those who carry excess weight around their waist, which is why waist circumference is one of the parameters that is measured when establishing metabolic health.
- Lifestyle – poor levels of activity are one of the key risk factors for metabolic syndrome. Inactivity obviously increases the risk of obesity and leads to poor fitness. Other lifestyle factors include smoking, alcohol, and recreational drugs.
- Disease – having other illnesses can increase the risks, for example, fatty liver disease, sleep apnea, or polycystic ovarian syndrome.
What Can I do to Avoid Metabolic Disease?
There are things you can do right now, today, to improve your metabolic health. By continuing to do these things, you can drastically reduce your risk of serious disease. None of these measures are difficult or require investment or even much time, but they are all incredibly important at preventing metabolic disease and boosting general health.
- Move More – getting half an hour of physical activity each day is the minimum recommended exercise guideline. If you are currently very sedentary (you don’t move around much or spend most of your time sitting down), then you can slowly work up to doing more activity. Just because half an hour each day might seem like a lot more than you currently do, isn’t a reason to not try! Every extra step you do, every journey you make on foot, and every exercise counts. This means even the failed workout attempts, even the short walks. It all counts towards the target of getting more active. Try tracking your number of steps, taking up a sport, or leaving the car behind in favor of cycling or walking to boost your activity level.
- Eat Well – this is not about dieting! It is about making good food choices. This means variety, so aim for as many vegetables as you can fit into your daily diet, plenty of fruit, and whole grains rather than processed grains. Choose lean protein and reject saturated fat, added sugar, and salt. Sounds like a lot to remember, right? There is an easy way to help your diet without needing to remember any of the details. Simply choose fresh ingredients and cook from scratch. This eliminates most processed foods and delivers loads of nutrients but few calories. Another great tip is to eat the rainbow; try to eat foods of as many colors as possible every day. If most of your food is beige, white, or brown, then you are seriously missing out!
- Healthy Lifestyle Choices – some of the risk factors for developing poor metabolic health are unavoidable, such as family history of disease. However, there are many things that we choose to do that impact our health, and cutting them out of our lives can improve our metabolic health very quickly. Stopping smoking is a major one, and cutting down – or quitting – drinking alcohol is another. You can check out the guidelines for how many units of alcohol are considered safe in the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) Dietary Guidelines for Drinking Alcohol. If you feel that you will have difficulty in either quitting smoking or reducing your alcohol intake, then seek out help and support for this. Many people struggle with these substances and find that with support, they can quit and experience better health and wellbeing as well as reduced risk of disease.
- Medical support – why not talk to your doctor about your existing health and what you can do to improve your metabolic health. Your doctor can offer support or signpost you to support for losing weight, stopping smoking, managing your hereditary risk of disease, and using medication to help control any existing health problems.
When it comes to our health, there are many things you can do to reduce your risks and improve your wellbeing at the same time. The benefits of looking after yourself extend far beyond the numbers on your medical records; you could feel better, have more energy, look great and be more able to enjoy your life for longer by taking charge of your metabolic health.