What is Metabolic Health?

Metabolic health refers to the efficient functioning of our metabolism, which plays a crucial role in maintaining overall well-being. A healthy metabolism helps regulate energy production, utilization, and storage in the body. It also impacts other processes like hormone balance, blood sugar control, and weight management. Poor metabolic health can lead to various health issues, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Understanding and improving metabolic health is key to promoting a healthy lifestyle.

Defining Metabolic Health

a nutritious meal consisting of avocado, eggs, green vegetables, tomatoes, and watermelon radishes

Metabolic health involves the proper functioning of processes like insulin sensitivity, glucose and cholesterol metabolism, and fat storage. Factors such as waist circumference, body fat, physical activity, and the food you eat can all impact your metabolic health. Making lifestyle changes like incorporating more physical activity and consuming healthy fats can help improve your metabolic health and reduce the risk of developing a metabolic disorder. 

Metabolic syndrome includes various conditions that increase the risk for metabolic disease, such as triglyceride buildup, insulin resistance, and high blood pressure. This can lead to conditions such as fatty liver disease, kidney disease, and cardiovascular disease. Individuals with a higher metabolic rate and good metabolic health are less likely to develop metabolic dysfunction and chronic diseases. Factors like processed foods, weight gain, and poor gut health can all affect your metabolic health and increase your risk of metabolic syndrome. Maintaining a healthy range of HDL cholesterol, blood sugar, body fat, and overall health can help reduce the risk of developing metabolic syndrome. Consulting a health professional can also provide guidance on maintaining good metabolic health.

Who is Metabolically Unhealthy?

A study aimed to understand how many adults in the United States meet criteria for optimal cardiometabolic health, using different guidelines. They analyzed data from a national survey spanning 2009 to 2016, involving over 8,700 participants.

The findings showed that when using more recent guidelines, the proportion of Americans considered metabolically healthy decreased significantly from around 20% to only about 12%. Removing waist circumference from the criteria increased the percentage of metabolically healthy adults to about 17.6%.

Certain characteristics were linked to higher rates of metabolic health, such as being female, younger age, higher education, never smoking, engaging in vigorous physical activity, and having a lower body mass index (BMI). However, even among those with a normal weight, less than one-third were metabolically healthy, and the prevalence dropped to 8% and 0.5% among overweight and obese individuals, respectively.

In conclusion, the study highlights that a shockingly low proportion of American adults meet the criteria for metabolic health, even among those with a normal weight. This suggests significant public health implications, indicating the need for more effective strategies to improve cardiometabolic health across the population.

5 Risk Factors of Poor Metabolic Health

a woman measuring her waist circumference in a mirror

Several key factors contribute to poor metabolic health, including blood sugar levels, waist circumference, triglycerides, blood pressure, and cholesterol.

Blood Sugar

Our body's cells depend on bloog sugar for energy. When we eat, our digestive system breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, which then enters the bloodstream. Insulin, an essential hormone, helps cells absorb glucose for energy or storage. However, consistently elevated blood sugar levels, as seen in conditions like insulin resistance, where cells become less responsive to insulin's signals, can lead to metabolic dysfunction. Insulin resistance is a key characteristic of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, both of which are associated with increased risks of heart disease, stroke, and other health complications.

High blood sugar levels, indicated by fasting glucose levels above 100 mg/dL and hemoglobin A1c levels above 5.7%, are indicative of poor metabolic health. High blood sugar levels increase the risk of diabetes and other metabolic disorders.

Waist Circumference

Waist circumference helps measure abdominal obesity. Excess fat stored around the abdomen, particularly visceral fat surrounding organs, is metabolically active and releases inflammatory substances that can interfere with insulin signaling and promote insulin resistance. This disruption in insulin function contributes to metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

waist circumference exceeding 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women is associated with increased metabolic risk. Excess abdominal fat can lead to both insulin resistance and inflammation, contributing to metabolic dysfunction.

Blood Pressure

Blood pressure measures the force of blood against arterial walls as the heart pumps it around the body. Elevated blood pressure, or hypertension, can strain the cardiovascular system, leading to damage to blood vessels and organs over time. Hypertension is closely linked to metabolic health, with insulin resistance and obesity being common risk factors. Hypertension is a significant risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease.

Maintaining blood pressure levels below 120/80 mmHg is essential for metabolic health. Elevated blood pressure strains the cardiovascular system and is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and metabolic syndrome.


Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood, primarily derived from the fats we eat and produced by the liver. Elevated triglyceride levels can result from consuming excess calories, especially from refined carbohydrates and sugars. Elevated triglyceride levels are often associated with metabolic syndrome. They contribute to the development of atherosclerosis (the buildup of plaque in arteries), which increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Elevated triglyceride levels (>150 mg/dL) are a marker of poor metabolic health. High triglycerides are often seen alongside obesity, insulin resistance, and heart disease, indicating an increased risk of metabolic disorders.


Cholesterol is a fatty substance essential for building cells and producing hormones. However, too much cholesterol, particularly low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, contributes to plaque formation that narrow and stiffen the arteries, leading to atherosclerosis. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, on the other hand, helps remove LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream, reducing the risk of plaque buildup. Imbalances in cholesterol levels, such as low HDL and high LDL cholesterol, contribute to cardiovascular disease, making cholesterol management crucial for metabolic health.

Optimal levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, generally above 60 mg/DL, are important for metabolic health. Imbalances in cholesterol levels, particularly low HDL and high LDL, contribute to atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease, reflecting poor metabolic health.

How to Improve Your Metabolic Health

outdoor yoga class

Taking steps to improve your metabolic health can have profound benefits for your overall well-being. Here are some strategies to help you improve your metabolic health:

Exercise Regularly

Consistent physical activity is a very effective way to improve metabolic health. Exercise can help increase insulin sensitivity, allowing cells to better absorb glucose from the bloodstream for energy. It also helps reduce abdominal fat, lowers blood pressure, and improves cholesterol levels. Aim for a combination of aerobic exercise, such as walking, running or cycling, and strength training exercises at least three to five times per week.

Get Quality Sleep

Getting enough high-quality sleep is essential for metabolic health. Poor sleep can disrupt hormone levels, including those that regulate appetite and metabolism, leading to poor dietary choices. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night and develop a consistent sleep schedule to support your body's natural rhythms.

Minimize Sugar and Fat Intake

Consumption of added sugar and unhealthy fats can contribute to insulin resistance, weight gain, and metabolic dysfunction. Limit your intake of sugary beverages and processed foods. Instead, opt for whole, nutrient-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats like those found in nuts, seeds, and avocados.

Adopt a Healthy, Unprocessed Plant-Rich Diet

A diet consisting of whole, unprocessed plant foods provides essential nutrients and fiber while minimizing added sugars, unhealthy fats, and processed ingredients. Focus on incorporating plenty of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds into your daily diet. Natural, unprocessed foods are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, supporting optimal metabolic function and overall health.

By incorporating these lifestyle changes, you can help boost your metabolic health and reduce your risk of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Start small and gradually build healthy habits over time for long-lasting results.

Wrapping Up

Metabolic health refers to the body's ability to efficiently process and utilize energy from the foods we consume. It encompasses a range of factors including insulin sensitivity, blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels, and other markers of overall health. Poor metabolic health can lead to conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Maintaining good metabolic health involves a combination of regular exercise, a balanced diet, adequate sleep, and stress management. By prioritizing metabolic health, individuals can reduce their risk of chronic diseases and improve their overall well-being. It is important to monitor and take care of metabolic health through regular check-ups and lifestyle choices.

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