Metabolic Syndrome: Lifestyle Factors and Prevention

Metabolic syndrome: one-third of U.S. adults.

Cycling Mother and Daughter, Netherlands/via Wikimedia CommonsConversations about health—whether between neighbors or between clinicians and patients—often revolve around weight problems, blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. Taken together, these are the cardiovascular risk factors referred to as metabolic syndrome.

In the United States, more than one-third of all adults have metabolic syndrome. This is an astonishing figure, especially because these risk factors can be modified.

What keeps some who are obese or overweight ‘metabolically healthy’?

In recent years, researchers have learned that some people who are overweight or obese do not demonstrate the other risk factors that are part of metabolic syndrome, and therefore these people have a lower-than-expected risk of cardiovascular disease. In a study reported in this month’s AJN (“Examining the Links Between Lifestyle Factors and Metabolic Syndrome“), a group of Taiwanese nurse researchers set out to learn whether there might be lifestyle factors that keep this subgroup of people “metabolically healthy,” protecting them from the other cardiovascular risk factors that usually come with extra weight.

Lifestyle factors associated with prevention.

Dr. Shu-Hung Chang and colleagues performed community-based physical exams on more than 700 people in northern Taiwan and questioned them about lifestyle factors including smoking, drinking, exercise, and the foods they ate. The researchers found that overweight and obese people who quit smoking, exercised, and maintained a higher intake of fruits and vegetables were more likely to be metabolically healthy than those who did not.

These results replicate the findings from studies conducted in the United States and Europe, as well as in their own country, and are perhaps not surprising. But as these nurse researchers note:

It is often difficult for people who are overweight or obese to reduce their weight so that it falls within a normal range and to maintain that healthier weight. It stands to reason that if such individuals were to focus not only on weight loss, but also on learning to dedicate themselves to health-promoting behaviors – such as quitting smoking, adhering to a regular exercise regimen, and consuming more vegetables and fruits—the prevalence of metabolic syndrome would decrease markedly.

More easily manageable prevention approaches for metabolic syndrome.

Their conclusion suggests that clinicians might take a new approach when patients struggle with weight loss. With these research results in mind, more easily manageable goals might be set. For example, the daily addition of two extra servings each of fruit and vegetables, along with a simple exercise goal such as a walk around the block, can help ensure short-term successes that encourage people to “stay with the program” and more steadily reach their long-term weight-loss goals. Meanwhile, the short-term changes made can lower their risk of cardiovascular disease. Read the article here.

Clinical editor, American Journal of Nursing (AJN), and epidemiologist

One Comment

  1. Yami RN April 18, 2017 at 7:29 pm

    I would like to sincerely congratulate Ms. Todd for her blog about Metabolic Syndrome. This is a topic of interest not only for nurses and other health care professionals but for general public. Metabolic syndrome (characterized by elevated blood pressure, hyperglycemia, insulin resistance, hyperlipemia, visceral adiposity, overweight or obesity, hypercoagulability of blood, inflammatory conditions, gout, stress, etc) elevates the risks of cardiovascular diseases and mortality. One of the merits of this article is the distention made between obesity/overweight and metabolic syndrome, recognizing the last one as the direct target to reduce the incidence of heart disease. It is interesting how studies made in distant countries (USA, Taiwan, Europe) coincide that in order to gain the battle against this global epidemic attacking literally our hearts, in addition to a weight loss strategy is fundamental to improve lifestyle habits incorporating more fruits, vegetables to a balanced diet, daily exercise routine, relaxing techniques and eliminating novice behaviors such as smoking, sedentary life style, alcoholism, foods high in sugar and fats. As nurses, we must implement measures and educate our patients about the big positive impact that small, low cost, achievable changes can make to our health.

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