Health Habits: Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Metabolic Syndrome

Individuals who are overweight, obese, have dyslipidemia (abnormal amount of blood lipids), hypertension, and impaired glucose intolerance may be at risk for Metabolic Syndrome.  Obesity has been an ongoing health problem for Americans.  Sedentary lifestyles and poor diet contribute to dyslipidemia, obesity, hypertension, and impaired glucose intolerance (high blood glucose levels). Metabolic syndrome diagnosis usually involves 3 or more of the 5 conditions coexisting. Combinations of the conditions that make up metabolic syndrome are also risk factors pointing to cardiovascular disease, stroke, and diabetes.  

There are specific measurements or guidelines for diagnosing metabolic syndrome. Waist circumference, fasting triglyceride levels, fasting HDL (high-density lipoprotein) level, blood pressure, and fasting blood glucose levels are the measurements of focus.  Abdominal obesity is one of the more severe health indicators.  A waist circumference of 40 inches or more in men, and 35 or more inches for women are red flags.  Triglyceride levels of 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) of blood or greater indicate risk for stroke and cardiovascular disease.  HDL cholesterol of less than 40 mg/dL for men and less than 50 mg/dL for women shows that the levels of good cholesterol are low.  Blood pressure of 130 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or greater, over 85 mm Hg and up indicate increased health risks.  Lastly, fasting blood glucose levels of 100 mg/dL is an indication of possible prediabetes. 

Treatment for metabolic syndrome focuses on treating the pathophysiology.  Lifestyle changes addressing diet and physical activity will help improve the risk factors.  According to the American Heart Association, avoiding processed foods high in saturated and trans-fats, added sugar, and sodium helps improve diet. Consume a diet rich in whole grains, fruit and vegetables, lean meat and poultry, grilled, baked or broiled fish, and low fat or dairy-free products. Whole grains are a good source of fiber, which helps lower cholesterol.  Fiber helps slow digestion, maintaining fullness, and decreasing calories consumed. Highly processed foods such as chips, cookies, and crackers tend to be high in saturated, trans-fats, sodium and added sugar. Consuming a diet high in fruit and vegetables ensures the intake of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.  Lean meats and low-fat dairy are lower in saturated fats, which help keep the blood lipid levels low. Following a healthy diet will help decrease the calories consumed and increase weight loss.

Combined with a healthy eating pattern, moderately vigorous exercise can help with weight loss and cardiovascular health.  The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of exercise per week.  Moderately vigorous physical activity should get your heart rate up to be effective.  Movement of the body helps lower blood glucose levels and increase insulin response.  By doing so, this reduces risks for prediabetes. In the end, staying active, maintaining a healthy diet, and keeping excess weight off will aid in the prevention of metabolic syndrome. 

This week’s health habit: Assess your eating habits and physical activity, if you’re unsure about your health habits, please reach out to your physician or dietitian for further assessment. 

American Heart Association. About Metabolic Syndrome. American Heart Association website. Updated July 31, 2016. Accessed September 5, 2020.


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