Health & Fitness

Master your metabolism – our guide to metabolic health

Metabolic health has a huge impact on your life and wellbeing. Here's what you can do to look after it.

Metabolic health describes the state of your metabolism - the way your body breaks down food and uses it for energy. So it’s fairly central to your overall health and well-being. 

Around 1 in 4 European adults experience metabolic health issues, which can lead to insulin resistance, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. But what exactly is a “healthy” metabolism, and how can you make sure yours is in good condition? 

In this article, we'll explore the 5 key markers of metabolic health and why it's so important to stay on top of them. Plus, we'll share some tips on how you can start improving your metabolic health today.

Why does metabolic health matter?

When your metabolism is working well, it can put you in a good place to function at your best in your daily activities and live a more energized life. 

When metabolic health starts to slide, it can impact your life in several ways. Symptoms of poor metabolic health include: 

  • bad sleep
  • inflammation 
  • anxiety
  • sexual dysfunction
  • unwanted weight gain
  • fertility issues
  • chronic pain. 

But metabolic health isn't just about what’s happening in the short term. It can also influence your risk of developing certain chronic diseases. A healthy metabolism helps regulate blood sugar levels, which can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. It also helps keep cholesterol levels in a healthy range. This is important as it reduces the risk of plaque building up in your arteries and causing blockages that can lead to poor heart health and stroke.

Which markers to track for metabolic health

There’s no hard-and-fast definition of metabolic health. In recent years, scientists and researchers have defined the term in different ways. But many experts define good metabolic health as a person showing healthy ranges of the following five health markers without the need for medication:

  1. Blood pressure: A typical part of routine health visits is measuring the force of blood against your artery walls. High blood pressure causes your heart to work harder, leading to heart issues. 
  2. Blood glucose: If your blood glucose or blood sugar levels are higher than usual for a long time, blood vessels may get damaged. Issues such as poor heart health or stroke may be more likely when blood sugar levels stay high. If your body doesn't respond to insulin properly, you may have insulin resistance, which can lead to type 2 diabetes if left untreated.
  3. Triglycerides: The body converts excess calories into triglycerides. These molecules may be stored in fat cells but can also build up in the blood. High levels of triglycerides in combination with high total cholesterol levels can increase the likelihood of developing heart health issues.
  4. HDL-cholesterol: When your doctor mentions HDL-cholesterol, they’re talking about the healthy cholesterol your body needs to function properly. Good HDL levels help maintain a healthy heart by working to get rid of excess cholesterol. 
  5. Waist circumference: This measures excess stomach fat, which can make it challenging for your heart and other organs to function properly. 

One of the best ways you can safeguard your metabolic health and proactively prevent chronic conditions is by monitoring your metabolic health through routine blood work. 

What is metabolic syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is not a disease in itself, but a cluster of conditions or symptoms that indicate a person’s chances of developing conditions like coronary heart disease, stroke, or type 2 diabetes. 

If 3 or more of the 5 key markers outlined above are out of range, your doctor may diagnose you with metabolic syndrome. 

Factors that increase a person’s chances of developing metabolic syndrome include genetics, lack of regular exercise, and poor eating habits.

A large study of 34,281 European adults from 10 countries found that 24.3% had metabolic syndrome. Having a combination of high triglycerides, blood pressure, and waist circumferences was most commonly found in people from the United Kingdom (32%), Sardinia in Italy (19.6%), and Germany (18.5%). 

Keeping on top of your metabolic health 

Many things can impact your metabolic health, including age, genetics, and biological sex. Some of those things you can control, some you can’t. Here are the things you can do to give your metabolism the best chance of working properly.

1. Pick high-protein foods

Take control of your metabolic health by eating protein-rich foods. Getting enough protein helps keep your blood sugar levels from spiking too high after mealtimes. Instead, it can promote a healthy, stable rise in glucose levels post-meal. 

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), it’s good to limit your intake of protein from fatty sources like sausages, bacon, and ham as they can increase cancer risk.

Adults should aim for 0.8 g of protein per kg of body weight daily. So a person weighing 90.7 kg should eat about 72 g of protein daily. For a day’s intake, that person could enjoy 20 g of protein in each of 3 meals and 2 snacks containing 6 g of protein.

Protein-rich foods include: 

  • Chicken
  • Fish
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Beans
  • Tofu
  • Eggs
  • Low-fat dairy

2. Look for low-glycemic foods

The glycemic index (GI) is a scale that ranks how much certain foods increase blood sugar levels. Foods with a low GI tend to digest more slowly, which in turn gives a slower rise in blood sugars. 

A 2019 article reviewing 54 research studies found that low GI diets decreased body weight, fasting blood sugar levels, and hemoglobin A1c – a measure for long-term blood sugar levels – in individuals with prediabetes or diabetes.

Low GI foods include: 

  • Green vegetables
  • Berries
  • Cheese
  • Oats
  • Brown rice
  • Yogurt
  • Chickpeas 
  • Kidney beans

3. Eat the rainbow

The saying “eat the rainbow” means incorporating fruits and vegetables of all colors onto your plate. Fruits and vegetables are known for being chock-full of vitamins and minerals, and they also contain a variety of chemical compounds called phytonutrients.  

Many phytonutrients act as antioxidants, which means they can help our bodies get rid of substances that can damage our health and cause disease. Phytonutrients like carotenoids and flavonoids are responsible for the vibrant pigments you see when shopping for fruits and vegetables. 

Not only are fruit and veg nutritious, but they’re low in calories and fiber-rich, which can help with maintaining a healthy weight.

Try eating the rainbow by including fruits and vegetables of many colors on your next shopping list. Here are some ideas:

  • Red: bell peppers, beets, radishes
  • Orange: carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin
  • Yellow: squash, apples, golden beets
  • Green: Swiss chard, avocados, brussels sprouts
  • Blue: blueberries, blackberries, elderberries
  • Purple: red cabbage, eggplant, Concord grapes
  • White/brown: cauliflower, onion, mushrooms

4. Fit in some exercise 

According to a 2020 study, regular exercise can powerfully protect your body from metabolic syndrome by enhancing metabolic function in organs such as the liver and pancreas. Exercise helps your body become more sensitive to insulin, improving blood sugar control, lowering cholesterol, reducing inflammation, and decreasing blood pressure.

Exercise can also help you shed some pounds and get to a healthy weight, which may help stave off metabolic syndrome. 

The recommended activity level is 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. 

Speak with your doctor before starting any exercise program, and start small. Going for a brisk walk, dancing, or taking a short jog for 10-20 minutes are a few ways to get started. 

5. Adopt healthier sleep habits

If it takes you a while to fall asleep at night, you’re not alone. It has been estimated that about one-third of the German population struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep. 

A 2021 review of 13 studies found that both sleeping less than 6 hours or more than 8 hours at night raised the chances of metabolic syndrome. Poor sleep is also linked to obesity and heart issues.

One crucial way to get better sleep is to be intentional about your sleep hygiene. 

Here are 4 ways you can improve your sleep hygiene:

  1. Avoid screens for 1-2 hours before bedtime.
  2. Keep your bedroom cool and dark.
  3. Try stress-lowering activities before bed, like taking a warm bath, stretching, reading, or diffusing lavender essential oils.
  4. Even if you’re tired, avoid sleeping for longer than 30 minutes during the day to ensure you are tired enough to sleep at night.

6. Manage your stress

It’s no secret that life can be stressful. However, it’s crucial to not let it overcome you because high stress is linked to poor metabolic health.

Try these tips to manage your stress better. 

  • Reduce screen time.
  • Try deep breathing exercises.
  • Spend time outdoors in nature.
  • Share your feelings with people you can trust.
  • Dedicate more time to your hobbies.
  • Listen to calming music. 
  • Donate your time to help others in need. 

If you’re struggling to handle stress in your life, it can be helpful to speak with a doctor.

The bottom line

Metabolic health is optimal when your bloodwork shows blood sugar, triglycerides, and cholesterol ranges that are healthy, alongside balanced values for blood pressure and stomach fat.

Your metabolic health affects your whole body and mental well-being, including your heart health and your chances of developing insulin resistance and diabetes. Monitoring it closely and making healthy lifestyle choices can help reduce your chances of health issues in the long run. 

To get an inside look at your metabolic biomarkers, and improve your health and well-being, become an Aware member today.

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