When someone says, “Wow! You must have a fast metabolism!”, they are likely referring to the ability to keep weight gain at bay. But, the truth is, metabolism impacts much more than weight.
Metabolic health is the foundation of your overall wellbeing and includes all the chemical processes that keep your organ systems functioning properly. For example, when metabolic markers such as blood pressure become too high, the risk for cardiovascular disease and heart attack increases. Because the markers are not always physically obvious, you can go years without discovering metabolic dysfunction in your body. Many of us go around feeling just fine, but we might not be as healthy as we think. In fact, one in five Canadians experiences metabolic syndrome, a major sign of metabolic dysfunction. Taking proactive steps in prioritizing your metabolic health today makes all the difference in the long run!
Evaluating metabolic health
There’s no standard definition for optimal metabolic health, but health professionals agree that there are five main health markers that can help determine your metabolic health.
Monitor your blood pressure
As one of the five vital signs, blood pressure is routinely monitored by your physician and can be the first indicator of metabolic health. High blood pressure, known as hypertension, can indicate a higher risk for other health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, heart attack and stroke. When measured at home, blood pressure above 135 mmHg systolic or 85 mmHg diastolic pressure is considered high. Keep in mind that blood pressure should be tested along with other metabolic health markers to assess the risk accurately.
Measure your waist circumference
Even for those who weigh themselves regularly, waist circumference is a better representation of metabolic health. The number on the scale represents the body’s water, fat, bone, and muscle content, while waist measurement reflects how much fat is stored around the middle of the body. People who store more fat around the waist tend to be at higher risk for metabolic health problems. According to Health Canada, waist circumference above 102cm for men and 88cm for women is the cutoff point for a normal range.
Record your fasting blood sugar levels
Because metabolism is how your body uses energy, we must evaluate the body’s ability to use sugar as fuel. Normally, blood sugar levels increase after you eat a meal with carbohydrates and drop back to normal levels shortly after. However, if blood sugar remains high for long periods, it can lead to serious complications such as heart disease. Fasted blood sugar levels (measured at least 2 hours after eating) can be recorded routinely to make sure they are not increasing too much. Values higher than 7 mmol/L should be noted and explored further with your health practitioners.
Keep an eye on your triglyceride levels
When you eat foods containing any type of fat, your body uses it differently than they do with carbohydrates. Fats can’t provide energy directly but are broken down into triglycerides so that they are small enough to enter the bloodstream. The triglycerides are then transported to where they are needed.
People with poor metabolic health may have a difficult time converting fats to energy. If the triglycerides stay in the bloodstream for too long, they can raise your risk of heart disease. Levels are considered high when they reach 2.2 mmol/L or higher.
Check your LDL cholesterol levels
Triglyceride and LDL cholesterol levels go hand in hand when it comes to heart disease risk. They are often tested together because high levels of either are a cause for concern. LDL is known as the “bad cholesterol” because it can build plaque in the arteries and block blood flow. When LDL increases over 5 mmol/L, so does your risk of heart disease.
The dangers of poor metabolic health
Metabolic health markers should be closely monitored – although the symptoms may not be alarming at first, they can become life-threatening when left unaddressed. The biggest concern of poor metabolic health markers is its increased risk of heart disease. When metabolic markers are higher than normal, it is usually accompanied by high inflammation in the body. Inflammation promotes the growth of plaque, and the arteries can become clogged with LDL cholesterol. In severe cases, this can block blood flow to your vital organs. If the blood artery supply to the heart or brain is stopped, it can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
How to improve your metabolic health
Get regular exercise
The heart is a muscle! As the organ is responsible for continuously pumping blood and keeping you alive, you can bet that exercising for heart health is just as important as leg day. Being physically active is one of the most effective tools for keeping your heart strong. Thirty minutes of aerobic exercise such as walking or biking can help your body fight against artery damage caused by inflammation, high cholesterol, high blood sugar or high blood pressure.
Increase your intake of omega-3 fats
Even though omega-3s are a type of fat, they do not increase your risk of clogged arteries. Instead, they help regulate and reduce inflammation throughout the body. In fact, eating at least 2 servings of fatty fish has been shown to benefit heart and metabolic health significantly.
Fish rich in omega-3s include salmon, sardines, mackerel and trout. If you don’t eat fish often, you may find that an omega-3 supplement such as our Omega-Pro liquids or Omega Twist series is easier to incorporate into your daily life.
Reduce your stress load
Lastly, chronic stress cannot be overlooked when working on important heart health. Having stressors is normal, but when you let stress go on unaddressed for long periods, you leave your body to reap the consequences. We are meant to be able to withstand short-term periods of stress, but having too much stress negatively affects all the markers of metabolic health. Blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar levels and triglyceride levels can all worsen due to stress. The sooner you work on reducing your stress load, the sooner your metabolic health can improve.
- Riediger ND, Clara I. Prevalence of metabolic syndrome in the Canadian adult population [published correction appears in CMAJ. 2019 Feb 4;191(5):E141]. CMAJ. 2011;183(15):E1127-E1134. doi:10.1503/cmaj.110070
- Karelis, A. D., & Rabasa-Lhoret, R. (2013). Can inflammatory status define metabolic health?. Nature Reviews Endocrinology, 9(12), 694-695.
- Heart and Stroke Foundation. (n.d.). Healthy weight and waist. Retrieved from https://www.heartandstroke.ca/healthy-living/healthy-weight/healthy-weight-and-waist
- Peter, S., Chopra, S., & Jacob, J. J. (2013). A fish a day, keeps the cardiologist away! – A review of the effect of omega-3 fatty acids in the cardiovascular system. Indian journal of endocrinology and metabolism, 17(3), 422–429. https://doi.org/10.4103/2230-8210.111630
- Seematter, G., Binnert, C., & Tappy, L. (2005). Stress and metabolism. Metabolic syndrome and related disorders, 3(1), 8–13. https://doi.org/10.1089/met.2005.3.8