A Metabolic Makeover: Simple Lifestyle Changes to Improve Metabolic Health

Metabolism-Boosting Foods to promote metabolic health

Optimizing metabolism is something we’ve discussed several times in this blog. Yet, there’s a closely connected concept that also deserves attention. In fact, learning how to improve metabolic health is vital as it can help decrease the risk of several serious (and often scary) diseases.

So first, what is metabolic health?

The term metabolic health refers to how well the metabolism functions. That is, how well the body converts what you eat and drink into the energy you need. Metabolic health also relates to how the body processes and uses that energy. There are various components to metabolic health, including blood sugar levels, triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, blood pressure, and waist circumference.

What’s the Difference Between Metabolism and Metabolic Health?

Metabolism refers to the chemical processes that maintain life in living organisms. That includes the reactions that break down nutrients to produce energy. It also includes using this energy to then build and repair the cells in the body. To keep it simple, you can think of two types of metabolism: 1) The breakdown of molecules for energy (known as catabolism). 2) The synthesis of compounds the cells need (known as anabolism).

On the other hand, metabolic health refers to the broad concept of how well the metabolism functions. It involves several key markers of health, as mentioned above. A healthy, well-functioning metabolism is vital for good health and can even decrease the risk of developing some chronic health issues.

Improve Metabolic Health

Why Is Metabolic Health Important?

There’s a strong correlation between the risk of developing chronic diseases and metabolic health. For instance, poor metabolic health can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. How do you tell if you have good, adequate, or poor metabolic health? There are key health markers that can provide the answers, such as:

  • Blood Sugar (Glucose) Levels: Optimal fasting blood sugar levels are typically less than 100 mg/dL. Levels that climb to between 100 mg/DL and 125 mg/dL are considered prediabetic. And once levels reach 126 or higher (confirmed by at least two separate tests), it indicates you have diabetes.
  • Triglycerides: These are fats found in the body, which are necessary for overall health. Optimally, triglyceride levels should come in at less than 150 mg/dL. Higher levels, unfortunately, are associated with health issues, including an increased risk of heart disease.
  • High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) Cholesterol: Often called the “good” cholesterol, levels above 40 mg/DL for men are considered good. For women, levels above 50 mg/dL are favorable.
  • Blood Pressure: This marker is known as a “silent killer,” as many people with high blood pressure are unaware as there are no obvious symptoms, and it slowly climbs over time. Ideally, blood pressure should be at or below 120/80 mmHg. If blood pressure reaches 130/80 or above, it’s considered high.
  • Waist Circumference: Excess fat around the waist isn’t just uncomfortable when your jeans are a tad too tight. It’s also a risk factor for metabolic diseases. Ideal waist measurements for men are considered to be 40 inches (102 cm) or less. For women, ideal measurements are 35 or smaller. (However, it’s worth noting these numbers can vary depending on your ethnic heritage.)

Healthcare providers measure these markers. After considering other factors, such as overall lifestyle, diet, physical activity levels, and family history, they use them to assess overall metabolic health. As long as you’re in the optimal range for three or more measurements, metabolic health is considered at least adequate. However, falling outside the optimal ranges for three or more could indicate metabolic syndrome. This is concerning, as metabolic syndrome sets the stage for an increased likelihood of developing chronic health conditions, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Type 2 diabetes, which can also increase the risk of other health issues, including heart disease, kidney disease, and nerve damage
  • Liver diseases, such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which can lead to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, cirrhosis, or liver cancer
  • Kidney disease
  • Sleep apnea, which can cause breathing to stop and start during sleep and interferes with your rest, increasing the risk of heart disease
  • Certain cancers, such as colon, breast, and endometrial, appear to be simulated by high levels of insulin (and insulin resistance)

Make sure you schedule regular check-ups and screenings to help monitor metabolic markers, as many of these can be elevated long before symptoms become noticeable. Better yet, improving these metabolic health markers can significantly reduce the risks.

The best diets for heart health and improve metabolic health include The Mediterranean Diet for Beginners

6 Ways to Improve Metabolic Health

Fortunately, even if it isn’t optimal right now, there are several effective and straightforward strategies to improve metabolic health. Most are simple lifestyle changes that will also improve other areas of health. Here are six strategies:

  1. Eat a nutrient-rich diet made up of mainly whole foods. Strive to eat more vegetables, fruits, quality proteins, healthy fats, and fiber-rich whole grains. Eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods can help you manage weight, improve blood sugar levels, and reduce the risk of several diseases. Several diets fit the bill, including a high-protein diet, the Mediterranean Diet, the TLC Diet, and the Mind Diet. In addition to what you eat, you’ll also want to consider what you don’t eat. Limit processed foods, sugary drinks, and high-fat, high-sugar snacks to improve metabolic health.
  2. Maintain a healthy weight: Achieving and then maintaining a healthy weight is crucial when it comes to metabolic health. If you are overweight, even a modest weight loss of 5 to 10% can help improve health markers like blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar. That said, remember that the scale doesn’t always provide the full answer. If you’re exercising with weights, you will likely put on muscle mass while losing fat. The scale may not change, but you’ll still improve your metabolic health.
  3. Exercise regularly: A consistent, regular, balanced exercise plan that includes aerobic exercises (like walking, cycling, and dancing) and resistance training (like weight lifting and bodyweight exercises) along with balance and flexibility movements not only helps you look and feel better, it improves insulin sensitivity, reduces blood pressure, strengthens the heart, and helps control weight.
  4. Get enough sleep: On the other end of the spectrum is sleep. Please don’t neglect getting quality sleep—7 to 9 hours per night! Not getting enough sleep or getting poor quality sleep has been linked to several adverse metabolic outcomes. That includes an increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and weight gain and obesity.
  5. Manage stress levels: Chronic stress is ubiquitous in today’s society. Not learning how to effectively manage those stress levels can negatively affect metabolic health. For instance, chronic stress has been associated with increased blood sugar and fat accumulation. Take time to reduce levels of stress in the body with grounding, forest bathing, mindfulness, meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, a regular exercise plan, or a daily walk. Allow the mind and the body to decompress, especially after a busy day.
  6. Stay hydrated: Ensuring you drink enough water is essential for the metabolism. It not only helps the body flush out toxins, it can also improve kidney function and help with weight management.

Metabolic Age Quiz

It should go without saying that you’ll want to avoid smoking and limit drinking, as excessive alcohol consumption and smoking negatively affect metabolic health and lead to a wide range of health issues, including an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Implementing strategies to improve metabolic health doesn’t require dramatic changes overnight. Simple, small, consistent lifestyle modifications can lead to big improvements over time.

Improve Metabolic Health and Boost Metabolism

Improve Your Metabolic Health: A Wrap-up

Okay, improving metabolic health may not sound as exciting as boosting metabolism, but it’s essential for your overall wellness. Most importantly, it can help decrease the risk of chronic diseases.

Improving metabolic health doesn’t have to be complicated. Simple lifestyle changes, like eating more healthy whole foods, getting regular exercise, getting enough sleep, and managing stress, can help you significantly improve metabolic markers and improve quality of life. If you haven’t had a check-up in a bit, now’s a good time to schedule one, as monitoring your metabolic health and making any needed adjustments can lead to a healthier, more vibrant life.