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What is Metabolic Health?

Sarah Rose Siskind
December 4, 2020

Imagine owning a car and neglecting to maintain the engine. Shortsighted, right? Well, that’s the equivalence of neglecting your metabolic health. Yet it’s extremely common. According to one study, 88% of Americans have suboptimal metabolic health. With lower rates of obesity but higher rates of smoking, Europe has also seen a marked decline in metabolic health. Finally, recent studies from China have shown that widespread declines in metabolic health correlate with higher incidences of death due to Covid-19.

For a long time, metabolic health was defined as the absence of disease. But it is so much more than that. Optimized metabolic health is like an orchestra where every instrument plays in tune and on time. Blood pressure is like the percussion section. The strings and wind section consist of levels of glucose, triglycerides, and good cholesterol in the blood. Overall body proportion measurements are like the conductor. Metabolic health is like a symphonic balance among all the component parts.

Your metabolism breaks down the food you eat, the beverages you drink, and the air you breathe and turns that into energy. Most of this energy is spent on the less flashy functions of simply being alive: breathing, circulating blood, repairing cells, to name a few. The thyroid then regulates the rate of your metabolism with a complex set of hormones. These hormones then produce sensations of hunger and cravings and affect what foods you seek out and the process begins anew!

What affects your metabolic health?

  • Firstly, genetics. Many are gifted with healthy metabolisms or cursed with metabolic disorders such as diabetes, anemia, and cystic fibrosis among many others.
  • Secondly, demographics. Factors like age and sex affect the speed and quality of metabolic health.
  • Thirdly, lifestyle. This last category is arguably most important since it’s the one you have control over. Diet, fitness, rest, and stress are important contributors to metabolic health. Nutritional content, frequency of meals, and even the temperature of what you consume can affect metabolic health along with frequency and type of exercise, length and quality of sleep, and many aspects of your mental health.

Without good metabolic health, all those salads you opted for will be less nutritious and those hours at the gym will be a waste. You will be at greater risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, stroke, or Covid-19. You may even experience cognitive decline.

But what does good metabolic health look like?

Most medical research is devoted to the study of diseases rather than the study of health optimization. This, despite the wide-ranging consequences of metabolic health. The closest research on health optimization identifies categories that correlate with good metabolic health. The study mentioned earlier found that women, younger people, nonsmokers, physical activity, and higher education levels correlated with greater metabolic health.

While research on metabolic health is helpful, it is not conclusive because everyone’s health is different. Medicine is starting to become personalized and so should your mindset. So the question becomes: What does good metabolic health look like for you?

Metabolic health looks like a lot of different things for a lot of different people. It’s important to consider your “bio-individuality.” In other words, observe yourself:

  • When evaluating your blood sugar levels, monitor how your mood and energy levels shift throughout the day, how you feel after you eat, what do you crave, etc. For the most scientifically accurate measurement, consider wearing a glucose monitor to continually track your blood sugar levels throughout the day. lifetizr makes analyzing your bio stats easy with their bespoke monitor and app.
  • At-home tests for cholesterol and triglycerides are widely available but, so far, it does not seem that any kits offer continual tracking throughout the day and these levels may fluctuate.
  • The other tools are far more old fashioned. A simple blood pressure cuff and measuring tape will do the trick.

Metabolic health affects every aspect of your life. It affects when you get up in the morning, your energy levels and cognition throughout the workday, your body temperature when you leave work, your fitness and appearance when you work out, your alcohol tolerance when you hit the bar, and even your mood throughout it all. At the intersection of mind and body, metabolic health is the gold standard for evaluating a person’s total health.

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