What is metabolic syndrome?

Know the conditions that increase your risk for diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

An overhead shot of fruits and vegetables.
Photo: D. Breen/Pixabay.

The Mayo Clinic explains metabolic syndrome as a group of conditions that increase your risk for serious diseases such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Conditions that contribute to metabolic syndrome are high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high triglycerides level, a large waistline and abnormal cholesterol numbers, specifically low HDL. The more of these conditions you have, the higher your risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Having only one of these conditions doesn’t mean you have metabolic syndrome. However, it is important to ask your doctor if you need to be tested for other conditions.

According to the American Heart Association, you have metabolic syndrome if you have three or more of these traits or are taking medication to control them:

  • Waist circumference: 35 inches or more for women and 40 inches or more for men
  • High triglyceride level: 150 milligrams per deciliter(mg/dL) or more
  • Low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol: less than 40 mg/dL in men or less than 50 mg/dL in women
  • Increased blood pressure: systolic blood pressure (top number) of 130 or higher and diastolic blood pressure (bottom number) of 85 or higher
  • High fasting blood sugar: 100 mg/dL or higher

Additional health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, polycystic ovary syndrome, sleep apnea and physical inactivity also increase your risk.

Almost one-third of adults in the US have metabolic syndrome, according to the Mayo Clinic. The good news is that it is possible to prevent or delay the onset of metabolic syndrome by making the following lifestyle changes.

  • Be physically active. Thirty minutes a day, 150 minutes a week is the national recommendation. You can break up the activity in smaller time segments, such as in ten- to 15-minute intervals. Make activity part of your daily routine, such as walking instead of driving and taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Lose weight, if you are overweight. Losing just 7 to 10 percent of your current weight can improve your blood sugar and blood pressure. The National Diabetes Prevention Program offered by Michigan State University Extension can help you prevent or delay the onset of diabetes through modest weight loss and increased physical activity.
  • Maintain a healthy diet. Following eating plans such as the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) or Mediterranean diets can help improve blood pressure and weight by eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. These eating plans also recommend limiting sugar-sweetened beverages, alcohol, salt, sugar and fat.
  • Stop smoking. Quitting smoking is difficult, but it can greatly improve your overall health. Talk to your doctor about options to help you stop smoking.
  • Manage stress. You can improve your physical and mental health by finding healthy ways to reduce stress. Physical activity, meditation and deep breathing are some of the techniques you can use to manage stress. Stress Less with Mindfulness is another program offered by MSU Extension that can help you manage your stress.

Working with your healthcare provider to set specific goals around these lifestyle changes can help you prevent or minimize the long-term consequences of metabolic syndrome.

MSU Extension also offers Personal Action Toward Health (PATH) workshops, which can help you learn tools to better manage your chronic conditions such as metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease. For more information on how to make changes for a healthier lifestyle, nutrition, and physical activity, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

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