Beyond the scale: How good metabolic health can improve your well-being

By Regence
June 10, 2021
weight scale

Beyond the scale: How good metabolic health can improve your well-being

Good health is much more than just the number on the scale.

In recent years, metabolic health has become a better predicator of overall well-being – a measure that includes having ideal levels of blood sugar, triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, blood pressure and waist circumference. The serious health condition “metabolic syndrome” occurs when at least three of these five factors are elevated.

“Elevated levels of blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol are an early warning sign that your well-being is at risk, so take note,” says Dr. Jim Polo, an executive medical director with Regence. “While treatment is simple and effective, ignoring the signs of metabolic syndrome can chip away at one’s lifespan.”

Only 12 percent of adults in the U.S. currently maintain ideal levels of all five risk factors affecting metabolic health without the use of medications, like statins, according to a study published in the journal of Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders.

Poor metabolic health has been linked to serious health conditions including heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes if left untreated. In fact, it’s estimated that people with metabolic syndrome are five times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

For the average adult, the National Institutes of Health defines the ideal levels of these factors as:

  • a waist circumference below 102 cm (40 inches) for men and below 88 cm (34.6 inches) for women
  • blood sugar below 100 mg/dL
  • blood pressure below 120/80
  • triglycerides below 150 mg/dL
  • high-density lipoprotein cholesterol greater than or equal to 40 mg/dL for men and 50 mg/dL for women

In the last year, poor metabolic health has been linked to severe COVID-19 illness and symptoms with hospitalized patients. A risk assessment published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found most COVID-19 hospitalizations in 2020 through mid-November were tied to one of four cardiometabolic conditions: obesity, hypertension, diabetes or heart failure. The same study concludes that a 10 percent reduction in each cardiometabolic condition would have potentially prevented 11 percent of COVID-19 hospitalizations.

“The events of this last year offered a wake-up call to many of us that we must focus on our health,” Polo says. “Now is the time to check in on our metabolic health, before it has a more serious impact on our health.”

Lifestyle changes can improve health outcomes

Lifestyle changes to improve metabolic syndrome can delay or even prevent serious health problems.

For those with excess weight to lose, focusing on weight loss through diet and exercise can help improve LDC cholesterol levels, triglycerides, blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

“Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate physical exercise per week,” Polo says. “Moderate intensity walks just 30 minutes a day, five days a week can improve your health tremendously.”

In addition to exercise, watch your intake of certain foods like carbohydrates, sugars and alcohols, and eat more vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and lean animal proteins. 

“Limit your intake of added sugars to less than 10 percent of your daily calories,” Polo says. “Keep an eye on your cholesterol intake, too. It should be limited to less than 300mg per day, the equivalent of a medium fried egg.”

Schedule time to talk to your doctor about family history and risk factors

Nearly 1-in-4 Americans is at high risk for metabolic syndrome—yet many don’t know it.

In addition to lifestyle changes, consider scheduling a routine visit with your doctor, especially if you put off your annual physical last year due to COVID-19. A poll this year from TIME/Harris found that 78 percent of Americans put off at least one medical service in 2020 because of the COVID pandemic – including 27 percent who put off an annual physical.

A blood test called a lipoprotein panel measures cholesterol and triglycerides. Many health plans, including Regence, offer a biometric screening, which can help you understand your health risks and take charge of your well-being.  

“As we continue to emerge from the restrictions of the pandemic, it’s more important than ever to take charge of your health,” Polo says. “Prioritizing screening and prevention should be a part of your 2021 wellness routine for better health.”