What is Metabolic Health?
Maybe you've heard a lot about metabolic health, and you're looking for ways to improve your own. On the other hand, perhaps you've never heard of the term, and you're just beginning your journey into health and wellness. Maybe you're somewhere in the middle. Wherever you fall on this spectrum, this article will help you understand your metabolism, metabolic health, and why it is essential to care for.
So, before we can get started on metabolic health and how to improve it, you need to know what your metabolism is - and what it does for the body.
What Is Your Metabolism?
Many people only really hear the word "metabolism" in the context of weight loss, but in reality, your metabolism does so much more than that. Your metabolism is responsible for maintaining all of your body's basic functions. Some of these functions include:
- blood circulation,
- growing and repairing cells,
- digesting food,
- regulating body temperature, and
- managing hormone levels.
Your metabolism refers to the chemical process that your body uses to convert external calories (from what you eat and drink) into energy that your body needs to function.
The number of calories your body needs to function while resting varies from person to person. This minimum number of calories is called your basal metabolic rate (BMR). Individuals with fast metabolisms will burn more calories (or have a higher BMR) than individuals with slow metabolisms.
What Does "Metabolic Health" Mean?
Now that you know what your metabolism is and what it does, you may be wondering what "metabolic health" is. Unsurprisingly, the term refers to the overall efficiency of your metabolism. Clinically speaking, however, this term is measured by achieving optimal levels in the following five markers.
These markers are:
- Blood sugar
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol
- Blood pressure
- Waist circumference
When people have three or more of the following traits, they are said to have metabolic syndrome.
- Fasting glucose levels above 100 mg/dL
- Triglycerides above 150 mg/dL
- HDL cholesterol levels of less than 40 mg/dL
- High blood pressure (which means 130/85 or higher)
- A waistline of 35 inches or higher (women) or 40 inches or higher (men)
What Factors Affect Your Metabolism?
Since metabolism is such an important part of our daily lives and how we continue to function as human beings, it is not surprising that a number of factors can contribute to its health (or lack thereof).
Some of these factors include:
- Muscle mass - One of the largest factors in the speed and efficiency of your metabolism is your muscle mass. Building and maintaining muscle mass takes much more energy than maintaining fat. Because of this, individuals with more muscle mass tend to have faster metabolisms since they have to burn more calories.
- Age - As we age, we lose muscle mass. This slows the metabolism. So, the younger you are, the more effectively your metabolism will work.
- Sex - In general, males have faster metabolisms than women do. This is because, on average, they have more muscle mass, less body fat, and larger bones.
- Genes - Genes play a large role in your baseline muscle size as well as your ability to build muscle mass.
- Physical activity - We've all heard it before. A sedentary lifestyle causes a much slower metabolic rate. Unfortunately, this is a simple truth. When we are active, we burn more calories, meaning our metabolisms must work harder. This then boosts our metabolic rate and improves the health of our metabolism.
What Makes Someone Metabolically Unhealthy?
Many people think that they are metabolically healthy or that they need to be noticeably unhealthy - such as being extremely obese or having chronic health conditions - to be deemed "metabolically unhealthy." Unfortunately, this is not the case at all. In the United States, just one in eight adults (approximately 12%) has optimal metabolic health.
This means that around 88% of adults in the US are metabolically unhealthy. Unfortunately, simply seeing a "normal" number on your bathroom scale is not enough to have good metabolic health. This tremendously low number of metabolically healthy individuals in the US is likely due to the very sedentary lifestyle many of us live.
Your metabolic health is linked to so much more than your weight. To determine your metabolic health, you must look at many different areas of your life. You can use the five measures we mentioned earlier to assess where you are currently and track progress as you work to improve your metabolic health (we'll dive into how to do this below).
What Are the Risk Factors for Poor Metabolic Health?
Unfortunately, many risk factors can increase our chances of having poor metabolic health. While our bodies themselves have not changed dramatically over the years, our lifestyles have.
Some of the most impactful risk factors for poor metabolic fitness are:
- Living a sedentary lifestyle
- Not getting enough sleep
- Giving our bodies too many calories each day (chronic over-nutrition)
- Eating too many processed foods and drinks
- Snacking frequently or late at night
- Experiencing high levels of stress
What Are the Consequences of Poor Metabolic Fitness?
Poor metabolic health can look very different depending on the person and the level of metabolic dysfunction they are experiencing.
In less extreme cases, poor metabolic health can be hard to notice. It can appear in many ways that many of us simply associate with daily life today. This can include depression, anxiety, brain fog, fatigue, acne, chronic pain, lack of endurance for exercise, increased appetite, balding, and infertility, among others.
However, in more extreme cases, poor metabolic health can present itself in more notable ways. For example, obesity, diabetes or insulin resistance, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, fatty liver disease (non-alcoholic), cardiovascular diseases (such as stroke or heart attack), and more.
The key takeaway here is even if you are only experiencing subtle effects of poor metabolic health, it can cause tremendous effects on your daily life. Every part of our body is made up of cells that need energy to function. If our metabolism cannot provide that energy effectively, the effects can be devastating.
Can You Improve Your Metabolic Health?
We've used the term "metabolic fitness" in this article alongside "metabolic health." This was intentional because, to answer this question simply, yes, you can improve your metabolic health.
When we use the term metabolic fitness, we can think of metabolic health just as we would our physical health. If we want to be physically fit, we must work at it. We have to exercise and maintain our bodies if we do not want to lose the progress we've made. Your metabolic health is exactly the same. Think about your physical and metabolic health in the same way, and you can definitely improve.
Metabolic fitness is all about making conscious and smart decisions about what you do in your daily life. You will want to focus on your diet, sleep, physical activity, and stress management - we'll dive deeper into these four categories in the next section.
How to Improve Your Metabolic Health
You have no control over some aspects of your metabolism - such as your genetics, sex, and age. But, there are still major areas of your life that you can control that can greatly improve your metabolic health.
When people hear the word "diet," they often think of Keto, Paleo, or other "diets" that restrict the foods you are eating and limit the number of calories you can have each day. Unfortunately, as much as we may like these types of diets to work, the simple fact is that they do not.
Eating too few calories actually slows down your metabolism, and while it can lead to weight loss, it often leads to muscle loss, which slows your metabolism down even further.
The best things you can do for your metabolism are:
- Eat regular meals
- Eat enough calories each day
- Ensure you are getting enough vitamins and other nutrients in your diet
- Drink lots of water
- Eat more protein
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults aged 18-60 should get seven or more hours of sleep each night. Many researchers believe that when we do not get enough sleep, our bodies lower our metabolic rates to conserve energy.
To improve your metabolism through physical activity, try resistance or strength training. Activities like weight lifting help you build and maintain muscle - which, as we noted earlier, contributes to a healthier and more efficient metabolism.
Chronic stress is bad for the body in many ways; metabolic health is one of them. While stress is a part of our daily lives, if you want to improve your metabolic health, you will want to look for healthy outlets for this stress. This could be adopting relaxing hobbies, self-care routines, or seeking help from a therapist or counselor.
If you are interested in improving your metabolic health, but you are new to the health and wellness scene (or simply don't know where to start), check out our free, self-paced, online wellness education program. This program covers small, easy-to-implement lifestyle changes that can help you make good lifestyle choices when it comes to nutrition, exercise, stress management, sleep, and more!
Jay Todtenbier is an original founder of SupplementRelief.com in 2010 and has operated the business ever since. He is also a tennis instructor and gospel musician. Formerly he spent 25 years in business development, technology and marketing with startups and major corporations having gone through the tech boom in Silicon Valley in the 90s. He became passionate about, and began studying and practicing Wellness as a Lifestyle after experiencing chronic, personal health challenges including depression, auto-immune disorders, and being overweight that impacted his ability to live a healthy, vibrant life. Since then, he has been an advocate for healthier living encouraging others to live better through making small, gradual changes to lifestyle behaviors relating to whole-foods nutrition, stress management, reasonable exercise, proper sleep, and the use of targeted, high-quality supplements.
Learn more about Jay Todtenbier.
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The information, knowledge, and experience shared on this website is the opinion of SupplementRelief.com. This site and its content is intended to enhance your knowledge base as YOU MAKE YOUR OWN HEALTHCARE DECISIONS in partnership with your qualified health professional. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Any products referred to are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
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