When most people think of metabolism, thoughts of body weight, caloric burn, and energy come to mind. While these are certainly important factors, there’s much more to metabolism than just bodyweight. What’s really of utmost importance is metabolic health. And, seeing as a mere 12% of Americans are metabolically healthy, we think it’s an important topic!
But first, what is metabolic health? And why should you care? Ahead, we’re breaking down all you need to know.
What Is Metabolic Health, Anyway?
The definition of metabolic health — from a clinical standpoint, anyway — is somewhat loose. In general, it’s referring to the absence of metabolic disease, or ‘metabolic syndrome.’
Although there’s no one definition of metabolic health, knowing primary risk factors can help you gauge your metabolic health.
Here are important health markers to monitor:
- Blood sugar levels
- Triglyceride levels
- LDL cholesterol levels
- Blood pressure
- Waist circumference
Keeping these markers within normal range is key when it comes to staying metabolically healthy. If you start to see an increase above the recommended levels, you run the risk of serious health risks in the long run. And, it’s also important to note that it can even affect those who may appear to be healthy, making prioritizing metabolic health important for everyone.
So what causes us to be metabolically healthy or unhealthy? A number of factors play a role, such as weight, activity level (inactivity, specifically), age (risk increases with age), genetics, stress, lifestyle, and insulin resistance.
Why Metabolic Health Matters
Shockingly, most Americans are not metabolically healthy. Research published in Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders in early 2019 indicated that roughly 88 percent (!!) of Americans did not meet “metabolically healthy” criteria. Only 12 percent made the marks. So how do you stack up, and why should you care?
For starters, ensuring metabolic health (as you probably gathered) can help prevent serious and chronic conditions. Not only that, but research shows that metabolic health also plays a role in our overall immune health as well.
How to Optimize Metabolic Health
Ahead, healthy habits that may not only help improve your metabolic health but your overall health and wellness as well.
One of the primary contributors to poor metabolic health is inactivity. Lack of movement and exercise, sometimes referred to as a sedentary lifestyle, can lead to increased blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol — three primary risk factors in metabolic dysfunction.
So, scheduling a simple sweat sesh may be more beneficial than you realize! With regular exercise, you’ll help reduce the risk for metabolic dysfunction while getting the added benefits of movement!
Download the FitOn app and get access to unlimited free workouts to find out what type of exercise works best for you!
Chronic stress is one of the contributing factors to poor metabolic health — so let’s make stress management a priority, shall we? Try five minutes (or more) of meditation each day in order to get your stress management practice rolling.
But if you’re struggling — we get it, meditation isn’t always easy. Not to worry, we’ve got you covered! There are other mindful ways to manage stress and incorporate regular exercise (yes, a win-win!) Enter: the mindful practice of yoga. This mind-body exercise has been shown to reduce stress, benefit sleep, and improve overall mental health. So go ahead and add it to your routine! Browse the yoga category in the FitOn app to get started.
While we often hear about maintaining a healthy weight when talking about metabolic health, we also don’t want to get stuck in the vicious cycle of dieting as diets tend to crash and burn (and weight tends to return in spades — you can gain more back than you initially lost). This is why sustainability is important. Enter: intuitive eating. By learning to listen to what your body needs and fuel it appropriately, studies have shown that you may be able to manage your weight more sustainably (and feel better, too) while avoiding those crash-and-burn fad diets. Mayo Clinic also suggests “Eating plenty of vegetables, fruits, lean protein, and whole grains” (always a win!) and “Limiting saturated fat and salt in your diet.” In other words, listen to your body.
On top of listening to your body, be sure to stack your plate with plenty of nutrient-dense options! Incorporate foods such as:
- Colorful fruits and veggies such as berries, dark leafy greens, and cruciferous veggies
- Lean proteins like salmon, turkey, eggs, chicken
- Clean carbs such as whole grains, legumes, and root veggies
- Healthy fats such as avocado, nuts, and seeds
And, try to keep those not-so-healthy foods to a minimum. Think: foods like saturated fats, excess sugar and sodium, and anything artificial or processed.
If you’re trying to reduce stress, eat better, exercise and recover, and improve your health — and you’re not sleeping — you’re ‘poking holes in your bucket,’ so to speak. Sleep is the foundation for all of your health — physical, mental, emotional — and ensuring you’re getting quality sleep needs to be at the top of your list.
If you find it difficult to wind down before bed, consider implementing a before-bed meditation into your evening routine.
Drink Plenty of Water
Yes, something as simple as staying hydrated can help with weight management and support a healthy body function, in general. If you struggle to drink enough water throughout the day or find yourself feeling dehydrated, try these tips:
- Drink a glass of water first thing in the morning
- Always have your refillable water bottle with you
- Consider adding a splash of lemon juice for a low-cal flavor boost
- Incorporate more water-rich foods
- Make your own electrolyte drink
Improve Gut Health
This is an emerging area in the medical field, but gut health may be linked to your metabolic health, too. Recent research published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, suggests a diet high in nutrient-dense foods choices (and low saturated fat) may help to balance the sensitive microbiota in order to help support metabolic health. Fortunately, the above advice (intuitive and mindful slow eating, hydration, good sleep, and stress management) contributes to gut health.
You can also eat probiotic-rich foods such as
- Yogurt or fermented dairy (or non-dairy)
And of course, always chat with your doc and your nutritionist or Registered Dietitian.
Supporting metabolic health is a huge part of supporting overall wellness. The good news is that there are many things that are in our control that we can change about our eating style or lifestyle habits to help support our metabolic health.
If you are looking to uplevel your health, consider these hacks, and always speak with your doctor about any concerns you may have about your metabolic health.