Imagine owning a car and neglecting to maintain the engine. Shortsighted, right? Well, that’s the equivalence of neglecting your body's metabolic health. Yet this neglect is all too common despite being so important.
For a long time, metabolic health was defined as the absence of disease, but we now know that it is so much more than that. Like an orchestra in which every instrument plays in tune and on time, optimized metabolic health is a collection of bodily systems that work together in harmony.
Though we tend to associate body weight with overall wellbeing, there are actually five components of our personal health that contribute to metabolic health. These include blood sugar, waist circumference, blood pressure, triglycerides, and cholesterol. In a world where only 12% of Americans are considered metabolically healthy, let's take some time to learn more about this all-embracing analysis of our personal health. We’ll discuss what affects metabolic health, what the five metabolic health components are, and what it looks like when these components are thriving.
What Affects Metabolic Health?
Metabolism refers to the ongoing chemical processes in our body that allow us to function normally. These chemical processes are affected by many factors, but we've created three distinct categories that group these factors: genetics, demographics, and lifestyle.
Though many variables influence our metabolic health, genetics plays the most important role. That's because some of us are gifted with strong metabolisms passed down through genetics while others inherit metabolic diseases. We may not be able to control which diseases we inherit, but we can treat and manage these diseases over time as they relate to our personal wellbeing.
Another set of factors that influence metabolic health are known as demographics. Demographics include personal information like our age, sex, and race but also take into account our employment status, education, income, and other socioeconomic information. When combined, demographics distinguish us from one another.
A third element that affects our metabolic health is one we know universally as our lifestyle. This last category is arguably the most important because it’s the one we have control over. Lifestyle factors are those we choose, such as diet, physical activity, rest, and stress. Though no singular recipe exists to optimize our lifestyle habits, there are many actions we can take to ensure these habits better our metabolic health.
What Are the 5 Markers of Metabolic Health?
There isn't one single number or unit of measurement that lets us know whether or not we're metabolically healthy. Instead, public health officials refer to a series of five factors that are used to assess metabolic health. If your body is abnormal in any of the following categories, you may have what healthcare professionals refer to as metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions that lead to a higher risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Having one of these conditions doesn't designate metabolic syndrome, but instead acts as a risk factor associated with an increased risk of disease.
Ever wonder what your pancreas is for? This gland, located in your abdomen, releases a hormone known as insulin whenever you eat or drink something. As food and drink is digested and turned into sugar (glucose), it circulates through your bloodstream. Insulin then tells your cells to pull the sugar from the blood for energy. If glucose levels in your blood are consistently high over time, then your body will overproduce insulin and your cells will stop responding through a process known as insulin resistance.
We commonly associate insulin resistance with Type 2 diabetes because one leads to the other. If your body cannot move sugar out of the bloodstream and levels remain consistently high, then your risk for diabetes heightens. Diabetes leads to an elevated incidence of heart disease if left untreated.
Normal blood glucose levels should fall between 70 mg/dL and 100 mg/dL after eight hours of fasting.
The size of your waist, all the way around, is a key determinant of your metabolic health that details where you store fat on your body. Though we often think of body fat percentage when the time comes to discuss personal health, we also need to think of where the fat on our body is stored. Belly fat about the waist is unhealthy because it surrounds our vital organs and increases our risk for diabetes and chronic diseases.
Your waist circumference should measure less than 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women.
High blood pressure occurs when plaque builds up in your arteries, forcing your heart to work harder as it circulates blood through your body. This elevated pressure puts stress on your heart muscles, causing them to grow thick and stiff over time. High blood pressure is linked to an increased risk for heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke.
As we've known for decades, optimal blood pressure should be at or below 120/80 mmHg.
Much like the sugar in your blood, triglycerides are a form of fat found in your blood when your body doesn't need the energy right away. The fat is then stored in fat cells until hormones decide to release it for energy between meals. If you regularly consume more calories than you use, you may have high triglycerides.
Your doctor will check your triglyceride levels as part of a broader lipid panel, or lipid profile. Normal triglyceride levels are less than 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), while any measurement above 200 mg/dL is considered high.
Your body uses cholesterol to build healthy cells, but too much can put you at risk for heart disease. Two types of cholesterol exist: low-density-lipoprotein (LDL cholesterol), which is harmful and increases your risk for disease, and high-density-lipoprotein (HDL cholesterol), which staves off heart disease.
Cholesterol levels are also checked during a lipid profile. You'll want your LDL levels to be as low as possible, and your HDL levels should be greater than or equal to 40 mg/dL for men and 50 mg/dL for women.
What About My BMI?
BMI, or body mass index, was once widely used to determine your overall health by establishing if you were of a normal weight and height for your age. It was a key factor when assessing your metabolic health, but recent evidence suggests BMI is a less-than-ideal marker of your personal health. That's because BMI categories don't take into account your body composition (ratio of fat to muscle) or your muscle mass. Plus, those that are lean can still be metabolically unhealthy because being skinny isn't linked to wellness. Talk to your doctor when referencing your BMI to establish how it relates to the five factors listed above.
What Does Being Metabolically Healthy Look Like?
If a visit to the doctor reveals healthy levels in each of the five categories, then you're considered metabolically healthy. This means your body is not only free of metabolic issues, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, but it’s also in the best possible place that it can be for your personal health. As a result, you'll notice many benefits over time that are directly connected to your metabolic health. These include:
- More energy: You may find yourself energized throughout the day as your body maintains blood sugar levels. You won't feel the same highs and lows that others seem to experience before and after a meal or snack.
- Healthy weight: A consistent, healthy weight reduces your likelihood of obesity because your body is highly skilled when it comes to managing calories.
- Lower disease risk: Your odds of acquiring a disease are reduced because your body is in the best shape it can be. A proper diet, exercise, and other healthy lifestyle factors lower your risk for disease.
- Better sleep: A 2015 study published via PubMed found that individuals with Type 2 diabetes and poor diabetes care experienced poorer sleep. Suffice to say, individuals that manage their blood glucose levels will experience a better quality of sleep.
Maintaining Your Metabolic Health
As we've learned, your metabolic health is not a measure of any one aspect of your life, but a collection of multiple health benchmarks that illustrate your overall health. These include blood sugar, waist circumference, blood pressure, triglycerides, and cholesterol. When you manage each of these variables, you decrease the prevalence of disease and set your body up for success.
Sign up today for Vital to begin understanding your metabolic health and receive personalized recommendations about exercise, food, and daily habits.