You may have a lean body weight but still be metabolically unhealthy

You’ve been told to reach and maintain a healthy body weight typically defined as “normal” weight when using the body mass index (BMI).  A normal BMI for healthy body weight is recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as having a BMI between 18.5 to 24.9 kg/m2.  But is it possible even you fall into that “normal” BMI body weight range, to be metabolically unhealthy?  The answer is a definitive “yes.”

What does it mean to be metabolically unhealthy?

Defining a person as “healthy” or “unhealthy” can be somewhat tricky. Most doctors are in agreement on certain health parameters done to assess a person’s overall health.  These basic health parameters include blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides (a type of fat found in the blood), blood sugar, and waist circumference. Depending on the outcome when measuring these health parameters are often used to define “metabolic health.”

Metabolic health is defined as the absence of metabolic syndrome.  A person with metabolic syndrome or also referred to as being, “metabolically unhealthy,” are based on having at least three of these five risk factors:

  • Blood pressure: at least 130 systolic or 85 diastolic, or on drugs to lower blood pressure
  • HDL (good) cholesterol: below 50 mg/dl
  • Triglycerides: at least 150 mg/dl or higher
  • Fasting blood sugar: at least 100 mg/dl, or on drugs to lower blood sugar
  • Waist circumference: for men, having a waist circumference of 40 inches or higher; for women having a waist circumference of 35 inches or higher

The problem of being metabolically unhealthy is that having at least three or more of the above risk factors combined at the same time will place you at a much greater risk for diseases like type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.

And a huge percentage of Americans are lacking metabolic health, according to a study in the journal Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders.  In fact, only about 12% of adults in the U.S. have perfect levels of all five risk factors without having to take medications.

Another study called the Women’s Health Initiative, which has tracked about 17,000 postmenopausal women, of those who were “metabolically unhealthy,” they had at least two of the five risk factors for metabolic syndrome. Even for women with healthy body weight, those who were metabolically unhealthy had a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high blood lipid levels.

What is known is that whether a person is an obese or normal weight, when excess abdominal fat is present, very likely more inflammation is occurring in the body.  And women, who are postmenopausal, tend to gain more weight in the form of deep belly (visceral) fat after menopause.

Can metabolic syndrome be reversed?

 When a person is told they have metabolic syndrome, it is equivalent to being placed on high alert.  Having metabolic syndrome means it is time to make significant changes to your lifestyle if you don’t want to end up developing type 2 diabetes or having a heart or stroke.

Fortunately, steps can be made to address all five risk factors at once to improve each of them.  Here is what one can do to improve their health and lower their risk of serious medical complications:

  • Reach a healthy body weight

By losing weight you will be helping to shrink your waist circumference, lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels and triglycerides, and improve blood sugar control.  Losing at least 10 percent of current body weight can have a dramatic impact on reducing risk factors of metabolic syndrome leading to a better health outlook.

  • Be physically active

Becoming more active through exercise can improve every risk factor associated with metabolic syndrome, in addition to aiding in weight loss and reducing belly fat.  Getting in a 30-minute brisk walk most days of the week is a great way to get started.  If finding time to exercise is challenging, break up the time into three 10 minute sessions throughout the day.  As long as the total time exercised totals up to 30 minutes you will still reap health benefits.

  • Choose healthy foods

Following a heart-healthy diet is a must to help reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol, and moderate blood sugar levels.  Foods containing saturated fat and trans fats will need to be avoided along with drastically reducing refined carbohydrates (think of foods made with white flour, white sugar, or eating white rice).  Instead, make fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds, lean protein sources, and low-fat dairy the mainstays of your diet.

When planning the proper diet and exercise program for you, always check with your physician for their advice and keep regular appointments with them for check-ups to see how the lifestyle changes you make are impacting your risk factors.

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