Nearly one-quarter of Americans have a syndrome that dramatically raises their risk of developing other serious health conditions. It's called metabolic syndrome, and you have it if you meet three or more of the qualifying criteria:
- A waist circumference greater than 40 inches in men, and greater than 35 inches in women
- High triglycerides: 150 mg/dl or higher
- Low HDL cholesterol (the "good" kind): less than 40 mg/dl in men; less than 50 mg/dl in women
- High blood pressure, defined as a reading of 130 mm Hg or higher for systolic pressure (the top number), or 85 mm Hg or higher for diastolic pressure (the bottom number)
- High blood sugar: a reading of 100 mg/dl or higher for a fasting blood glucose test
The good news is that there are ways to fight metabolic syndrome and lower your risk for its related conditions. Metabolic syndrome is linked to insulin resistance, and many of the strategies for combating insulin resistance are helpful for people with metabolic syndrome. For example, if you're overweight, losing 10 percent of your body weight can cut your risk of diabetes and heart disease and raise your life expectancy. Eating four small meals a day, without going longer than four hours between meals, can help you stabilize your blood sugar and insulin levels. And one of the most important changes you can make is to get more exercise, which can increase your cells' ability to use insulin.
If you think you might have metabolic syndrome, talk to your doctor. While it's a dangerous condition, the consequences are not a foregone conclusion — with diet and exercise you can take control of your metabolism and get healthier!
Managing Stress Is Key
Stress can actually contribute to your risk of metabolic syndrome by increasing your body fat. When you're under stress, your body produces the hormone cortisol, which encourages the body to pack on fat, particularly around the abdomen. Manage your stress levels by cutting back on your responsibilities where you can, learning relaxation techniques and healthy ways to blow off steam, and making time for yourself to unwind. Getting at least seven hours of sleep a night will also go a long way toward relieving stress.