If you’ve had to let your belt out more than a few notches over the years, you may be starting down the path of a health condition called metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is the name of a cluster of problems that are caused by insulin resistance.
Common Indicators of Metabolic Syndrome
- Abdominal Obesity – Waist circumference of greater than 40 inches in men, and greater than 35 inches in women.
- High Triglycerides – 150 mg/dL or greater.
- Low “Good” Cholesterol – HDL cholesterol of less than 40 mg/dL in men or less than 50 mg/dL in women.
- High Blood Pressure – Systolic blood pressure (top number) of 130 mm Hg or greater, or diastolic blood pressure (bottom number) of 85 mm Hg or greater.
- High Blood Sugar – Fasting glucose of 100 mg/dL or greater.
Metabolic syndrome isn’t usually diagnosed until someone has three of the conditions listed above. However, even just one – like high blood pressure – increases the risk for certain health issues like stroke, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
“A little extra weight in the middle is usually the first thing people notice,” says Erika La Vella, DO, from Samaritan Weight Management Institute. “Things like high blood pressure and bad cholesterol can develop without any symptoms so it’s a good idea to keep up with your wellness visits to a primary care provider and take any ordered blood tests, which can screen for elevated levels of cholesterol.”
A population study published in the journal Circulation found that people who have metabolic syndrome are twice as likely to suffer from a cardiac event.
“Being diagnosed with metabolic syndrome can be a wake-up call for people,” says Dr. La Vella. “It means it’s time to do something different with your health and be more proactive about taking care of yourself.”
Manage Metabolic Syndrome
To lower your chances of getting a chronic condition down the road, it’s important to manage metabolic syndrome.
“Losing weight is the first and most important step,” says Dr. La Vella. “It helps to normalize the parts of your system that are out of balance.”
As weight reduces to a healthy range, blood pressure, blood sugars and cholesterol levels will also improve.
The solution is simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Before starting yet another diet, Dr. La Vella recommends these tips to make healthy habits a way of life:
If starting an exercise routine sounds too overwhelming, just focus on moving each day. Start with five minutes of walking today. Tomorrow, go again. Ask yourself each day, “Can I walk for five minutes today?” If the answer is yes, go!
Eat Whole Foods
Replace processed foods from the grocery store with whole foods. Whole foods are full of protein, fiber, complex-carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals. Add these foods gradually to create a healthy habit.
Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough sleep isn’t selfish or a luxury; it’s important to your health and well-being. Researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 22 population studies examining sleep duration and obesity. The paper, published in the journal Sleep, found a significant association between people who slept less than six hours a night and obesity.
According to Dr. La Vella, having metabolic syndrome can also affect your sleep – those who have the condition are more likely to suffer from sleep apnea, which makes getting a good night’s rest and waking up refreshed nearly impossible. If you suspect you suffer from sleep apnea, talk to your doctor about a referral to a sleep lab to find out how you can improve your sleep quality.
Cut Out Soda (Even Diet Soda)
Regular soda packs about twice your recommended daily sugar intake and diet soda contains questionable artificial sweeteners. Both regular and diet soda have been linked to weight gain, says Dr. La Vella. Instead, try black coffee or tea in the morning and water at meals. Add fruit slices and herbs for flavor. If an icy cold can of soda in the afternoon is a hard habit to break, try an unsweetened, naturally flavored sparkling water. Be sure and read the ingredients, as some flavored sparkling water contain juice or artificial sweeteners.
Taking medication to lower blood pressure or improve cholesterol can be helpful for some people while they work on adding exercise and improving their diet. Talk to your doctor to see if this option might be right for you.
If you have even one risk factor, like high blood pressure, it’s still a good idea to start adopting healthier habits now.
“Metabolic syndrome is a progressive disease that starts slowly and gets worse over time if you do nothing,” says Dr. La Vella. “The good news is that healthy lifestyle choices can make it disappear, so talk to your doctor if you need resources or ideas to get started.”
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