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Why You Should Know—and Care—About Your Metabolic Health

In August, Veracity is celebrating our inaugural Hormone Health Awareness Month. Join the conversation at one of our virtual panel discussions throughout the month and post on social using the hashtag #ItsYourHormones.

When we think about the elements of good health, what usually comes to mind are things like blood pressure, stress level, and body mass index. Metabolic health never makes the list. But it should because this overlooked process is one of the biggest determinants of your current wellness and your outlook for living a long and healthy life, or what those in medicine call “longevity.”

The stakes are high. While many of us may feel — and look — good, one study found that only 12% of Americans were actually in good metabolic health. Out of the participants who were considered to be of “normal weight,” less than one third qualified as metabolically healthy.

But knowledge is power, as they say, and once you know that metabolic health is a major driver of wellness, the lifestyle changes you need to make to ensure you are part of that healthy minority are actually relatively simple.

Breaking Down Your Metabolic Health

While metabolic health may be a new term for many, the buzzword most of us did learn at an early age is metabolism. Though teenage talk about metabolism usually revolved around how efficiently our bodies were burning calories, this process actually concerns how your body turns anything you eat or drink into energy to fuel all your daily actions and bodily functions.

Metabolism is one part of the equation, but your metabolic function has even deeper and wider roots. This process involves everything having to do with how your body converts energy at the cellular level and how it then takes those resources and deploys them to build and repair wherever needed throughout the body. Your metabolic function is like your body’s carpenter, and your body is only as strong and efficient as its carpenter’s ability to take the available resources and use them to maintain and improve your individual parts.

To determine your metabolic health, doctors take five measurements into consideration: your waist circumference, blood pressure, blood sugar, HDL cholesterol (or the “good” cholesterol), and triglycerides (a particular type of fat), all with one asterisk: the numbers must be within the desired range without the help of medication.

Failure to get a passing grade for your metabolic health can have a domino effect that can put you at risk for more serious issues including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and lower immune function. It can also cause skin issues (think breakouts and signs of aging), decreased energy, memory issues, mood swings, and hormone imbalances.

What Does This Have to Do with Hormones? (TLDR: Everything!)

When it comes to your health, nearly everything is connected. It’s a fact that is both comforting and sometimes overwhelming. While your hormone health is intimately tied to nearly every biological function, including that of your metabolism, there are a few hormones that have a more direct relationship with your metabolic health.

Insulin: This is the big one. When your body stops responding to insulin as it’s supposed to, you can develop insulin resistance, a condition that causes high levels of the hormone as well as high blood sugar. This condition can result in diabetes, but more immediately it affects how your cells process energy, which has a damaging effect on your metabolic health.

Cortisol: Cortisol may be known as the “stress hormone," but it plays a significant role in many other biological processes including the healthy functioning of your metabolism. When your cortisol becomes unbalanced — a condition which generally occurs due to stress — your body responds by slowing down other functions in order to prioritize responding to the stressor. Your metabolism is one of the functions that doesn't make the cut when your body is in high-stress fight-or-flight mode, resulting in increased weight gain and poor metabolic function.

Estrogen: Like cortisol, this female sex hormone does a lot more than its nickname suggests, and one of its many important functions is helping to regulate how your body processes energy. Lower levels of estrogen are related to an increased incidence of obesity and problems with metabolism.

How to Live Forever…Or, At Least, a Long and Healthy Life

The good news is, there are three magic bullets that will elevate your metabolic health to the status of the Mediterranean communities known for their longevity. The bad news is, you have to prioritize all three. If you skimp on even one of these elements of healthy living, your work won’t have quite the same impact on improving your metabolic health.

  1. Eat a balanced diet and supplement when necessary: A healthy, balanced diet with essential nutrients and regular meals are not only the foundation of good nutrition, they also lead to stable blood sugar levels. Which leads to another point that can’t be stressed enough: ditch the processed sugar as much as you and your will power will allow. 

  2. Get moving: Healthy exercise isn’t about hitting a spin class every day of the week. In fact, when it comes to your metabolic health, that isn’t considered the best way to exercise at all. The key to moving to improve your metabolism is low impact, frequent activity with some weight lifting sessions thrown in. Walking, yoga, hiking, or even taking the stairs when running errands will go a long way to improving your health. And, every so often, sprinkle in those higher intensity workouts. As Dr. Howard Luks, author of Longevity…Simplified, told GQ, “Just move, move often and occasionally with ferocious intent.”

  3. Sleep is golden: There is no wellness without quality shut eye. Sleep is not only when your body does a lot of its work to clean and repair, it’s also necessary for functions like keeping your hormones balanced and your blood sugar regulated. When you’re running a sleep deficit, your body’s ability to produce hormones and keep your metabolism humming along suffers, so find a sleep routine that works for you and practice good sleep hygiene 7 nights a week.

Sometimes, it can feel overwhelming to be constantly bombarded with health recommendations. But when it comes to metabolic health, the equation is pretty simple: keeping your metabolic function in strong, working order is the key to living a long and healthy life. And to keep it happy and humming along, all you need are 3 things: a healthy diet, regular movement, and some of that sweet, sweet sleep.

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