Metabolic Health 101

What is metabolic health, and why should it matter to you? Learn more about how metabolic health impacts you every day.

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by
Merve Ceylan
— Signos
Health Writer & Dietitian
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Reviewed by

Merve Ceylan
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
May 17, 2024
October 22, 2023
— Updated:
October 23, 2023

Table of Contents

What is the determinant of a healthy body? Well, there is no one answer, but being metabolically healthy is definitely a significant contributor. Disruptions in metabolic health are associated with health problems and chronic diseases.

In this article, you’ll learn the determinants and measurements of metabolic health alongside steps to improve poor metabolic health.

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What is Metabolic Health?

There is no set definition of metabolic health in the literature. Absence of metabolic syndrome is one of the most used definitions. ¹  

Metabolic syndrome (MetS) is a clustering of hyperglycemia/insulin resistance, obesity, and dyslipidemia. There are multiple criteria developed for the diagnosis. The list below provides the diagnostic criteria for metabolic syndrome from the National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panel III 2005 (NCEP ATP III 2005). ²

  1. Increased waist circumference
  • For men, a waist circumference greater than 102 cm.
  • For women, a waist circumference greater than 88 cm.
  1. Elevated triglycerides levels 
  • In both men and women, triglyceride levels equal to or greater than 150 mg/dl.
  1. Low HDL cholesterol
  • For men, a waist circumference greater than 102 cm.
  • For women, a waist circumference greater than 88 cm.
  1. Hypertension
  • For both men and women, blood pressure equal to or greater than 130/85 mmHg
  1. Impaired fasting glucose
  • For both men and women, fasting blood glucose levels equal to or greater than 110 mg/dl.

Metabolic syndrome is diagnosed if an individual meets at least three criteria. Meeting three or more criteria indicates a higher risk of developing metabolic disorders like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Therefore, metabolically healthy people are considered to have optimal waist circumference, fasting glucose, blood pressure, and blood lipid (HDL and triglycerides) and not taking any related medication. 

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Determinants of Metabolic Health

Body Weight and Composition 

Obesity and weight gain can hinder cardiovascular health. In particular, Abdominal obesity is associated with poor metabolic health because it can contribute to insulin resistance and fat accumulation in the liver (fatty liver). ³

Maintaining healthy body weight and low abdominal fat can contribute to metabolic health. Remember, healthy body weight can change based on a person's body composition and individualistic characteristics. It's better to pay attention to body composition and distribution. 

Blood Lipid Levels

Together, elevated triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol cause an increased risk for coronary heart disease. ⁴

Blood lipid levels can be abnormal due to unhealthy eating habits and lack of physical activity. Diseases such as primary hypothyroidism and medications (such as protease inhibitors and glucocorticoids) can also cause abnormalities in blood lipid levels. 

Healthy blood lipid levels are essential for metabolic health. Accumulation of fat in organs hinders their function, causing health problems. Following a heart-healthy diet and regularly exercising help improve blood lipid levels.  

Healthy Glucose Metabolism

Healthy glucose metabolism is a central aspect of improving metabolic health. Elevated blood glucose levels, particularly chronic hyperglycemia, can lead to insulin resistance and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and other metabolic disorders.

According to the American Diabetes Association, having a fasting glucose level of 110 to 126 mg/dL on two occasions indicates impaired glucose metabolism. 

Also, healthy insulin metabolism is needed for healthy blood glucose levels. Problems in insulin production or efficiency disrupt glucose metabolism, causing diseases. 

How to Measure Metabolic Health

Healthcare professionals can evaluate metabolic health by assessing your physical and biochemical measurements. Metabolic health is typically assessed by checking the following:

Body Weight and Composition 

There are many to assess whether your body weight, fat, and fat distribution are optimal. Healthcare professionals use medical devices, anthropometric measurements, and indexes to measure them. 

Waist circumference is a good indicator of abdominal obesity, which has been associated with metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and other metabolic diseases. 

You can measure waist circumference using a flexible tape measure and wrap it around your waist at the level of your navel or the top of your hip bone. 

Blood Lipid Levels 

Blood levels of triglycerides and HDL cholesterol should be measured after 12 hours or more fasting. Although HDL cholesterol is not greatly affected by eating, triglycerides can increase, so it’s important to take blood tests following fasting. Also, infections can cause acute differences in blood lipid levels. In that case, your doctor may assign the test after the infection has passed. 

Certain metabolic conditions can cause abnormal blood lipid levels, too. Diagnosis of the primary reasons behind hyperlipidemia is important for proper treatment. 

Blood pressure 

Sitting blood pressure is measured at rest by a healthcare professional. The American Heart Association considers normal blood pressure to be less than 120 mm Hg (systolic blood pressure) and less than 80 mm Hg (diastolic blood pressure). 

Stage 1 hypertension (first stage) is considered having systolic blood pressure between 130-139 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure less than 80-89 mm Hg. At stage 1, patients are usually prescribed lifestyle changes, and some patients are given medication, too. 

Blood glucose and insulin-related markers 

Glucose and insulin metabolism are intertwined, so doctors generally check post-challenge glucose and insulin levels and glycosylated hemoglobin levels to understand metabolic health regarding glucose metabolism better.

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How to Improve Poor Metabolic Health 

Lifestyle changes can greatly improve metabolic health, although genetics is a determinant to a degree. ⁵ You can improve metabolic health through the following:

Weight management 

Sustaining a healthy body weight through a healthy and balanced diet and physical activity is essential for metabolic health. Obesity is often a starting point of metabolic diseases. Slowly reducing body weight by 7% to 10% has been shown to improve metabolic health-related biomarkers.  

The key is not just to focus on your weight. Yes, body mass index (BMI) is used to assess obesity in clinical settings quickly; however, it has a margin of error. Assessment of abdominal obesity and body composition could be better determinants of metabolic health related to weight. Your doctor can measure waist circumference and other anthropometric measurements to assess your body composition. 

Healthy and Balanced Diet 

Optimal nutrition would be different for every person. For example, if a patient carries a risk for cardiovascular diseases, they’re advised to reduce sugar, saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol intake and follow more plant-based eating. 

Nutrition for Healthy Blood Pressure

High sodium intake is associated with hypertension. Most people tend to consume too much sodium. Patients with hypertension are guided toward weight loss and sodium reduction in the first steps. 

Nutrition for Healthy Blood Glucose Levels 

Healthy blood glucose levels prevent metabolic and cardiovascular diseases, energy crashes, and fatigue. 

Eating unprocessed and unrefined foods that match your calorie needs is recommended. Consuming a diet that includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein, nuts, seeds, and healthy sources of fat while limiting unhealthy fats, simple carbohydrates, added sugars, and highly processed foods can contribute to healthy blood glucose levels. 

Nutrition for Healthy Blood Lipid Levels 

Abnormal blood lipid levels are a risk factor for metabolic and cardiovascular diseases. A diet rich in fiber, unsaturated fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids, and low in saturated and trans fats is recommended to improve blood lipid levels. 

Regular Physical Activity 

Regular exercise at a moderate intensity of at least 30 minutes five days a week is recommended, alongside two days of resistance training. 

If you carry a high risk for cardiovascular diseases, consult your doctor before adopting any exercise regimen. 

Although guidelines provide general recommendations, it’s best to consult professionals (doctors, registered dietitians, nutritionists, and personal trainers). Personalized programs would be more helpful because they would be gathered to meet your needs and requirements.  

Avoiding Smoking 

Smoking decreases oxygen use in your organs and disturbs blood pressure and lipid levels.⁶ Cumulatively, they contribute to the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke.  

Stress Management

Chronic stress can cause hormonal changes. The release of stress hormones like cortisol can hinder metabolic processes, causing weight gain, insulin resistance, and high blood pressure. You can try stress-reduction techniques such as yoga, meditation, or regular physical activity to better manage stress. 

Sleep  

Adequate and quality sleep is crucial for metabolic health. Both short (less than 6 hours) and long sleep (more than 8 hours) have been associated with metabolic syndrome. ⁷

Also, sleep quality is as important as sleep duration. If you have low sleep quality, you can implement a sleep routine in your daily life. Improving sleep hygiene can be the first step through better sleep. ⁸

How Signos CGM Helps You to Improve Metabolic Health

Achieving healthy blood glucose levels is the first step to preventing diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Often, abnormal blood glucose levels cause obesity, which contributes to cardiometabolic diseases over time.  

A continuous glucose monitor (CGM) is a sensor device monitoring blood glucose levels through tiny needles inserted just beneath the skin, usually the back of the upper arm. CGMs continuously track blood glucose levels, allowing users to see real-time blood glucose levels. 

CGMs are often used by diabetes patients and athletes, yet it’s suitable for people interested in tracking their blood glucose levels to optimize metabolic health. 

Signos’s CGM system stands out by providing a CGM combined with Signos’s app, which processes your blood glucose data to give personalized recommendations on eating and exercise. The system could especially be helpful for diabetes patients who want to improve metabolic health by managing blood glucose levels better.

With Signos's CGM system

  • Get notified when your blood glucose spikes or dips 
  • Get a graph of your continuous glucose data
  • Get personalized recommendations for nutrition and exercise in real-time
  • Track your food, exercise, sleep, hydration, and more
  • Learn how your blood glucose levels react to certain foods

If you're curious if Signos CGM can improve your health, take a quick quiz to find your answer.

Do you want to learn more about metabolic health? Visit Signos' blog of science-based articles on weight loss, nutrition, wellness, fitness, and more. 

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References

  1. Araújo, J., Cai, J., & Stevens, J. (2019). Prevalence of optimal metabolic health in American adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009–2016. Metabolic syndrome and related disorders, 17(1), 46-52.
  2. Alexander, C. M., Landsman, P. B., Teutsch, S. M., & Haffner, S. M. (2003). NCEP-defined metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and prevalence of coronary heart disease among NHANES III participants age 50 years and older. Diabetes, 52(5), 1210-1214.
  3. Després, J. P., Lemieux, I., Bergeron, J., Pibarot, P., Mathieu, P., Larose, E., ... & Poirier, P. (2008). Abdominal obesity and the metabolic syndrome: contribution to global cardiometabolic risk. Arteriosclerosis, thrombosis, and vascular biology, 28(6), 1039-1049.
  4. Wilson, P. W., & Grundy, S. M. (2003). The metabolic syndrome: practical guide to origins and treatment: Part I. Circulation, 108(12), 1422-1424.
  5. Grundy, S. M., Cleeman, J. I., Daniels, S. R., Donato, K. A., Eckel, R. H., Franklin, B. A., ... & Costa, F. (2005). Diagnosis and management of the metabolic syndrome: an American Heart Association/National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute scientific statement. Circulation, 112(17), 2735-2752. 
  6. Quit Smoking. American Diabetes Association. Retrieved June 13, 2023 from: https://diabetes.org/health-wellness/smoking-and-diabetes 
  7. Che, T., Yan, C., Tian, D., Zhang, X., Liu, X., & Wu, Z. (2021). The association between sleep and metabolic syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in Endocrinology, 12, 773646.
  8. Mastering Sleep Hygiene: Your Path to Quality Sleep. Sleep Foundation. Retrieved June 13, 2023 from: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-hygiene 

About the author

Merve Ceylan is a dietitian and health writer.

View Author Bio

Please note: The Signos team is committed to sharing insightful and actionable health articles that are backed by scientific research, supported by expert reviews, and vetted by experienced health editors. The Signos blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider. Read more about our editorial process and content philosophy here.

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