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Another Reason to Choose Healthy Lifestyle Habits

By Jane Hart, MD

Our health is influenced by the daily choices we make about what to eat or whether to exercise. Healthy lifestyle choices improve our chances for feeling well and preventing disease. This is especially true for people with metabolic syndrome where a balanced diet, plenty of exercise, and weight loss are keys to a healthier life.

What is metabolic syndrome?

People with three or more of the following conditions may be diagnosed by a physician as having metabolic syndrome:

  • high blood sugar (or glucose),
  • high blood pressure,
  • abdominal obesity,
  • high triglycerides,
  • or low HDL (“good”) cholesterol.

Each of these conditions alone raises a person’s risk for serious medical conditions such as heart disease or diabetes, but for people with metabolic syndrome this risk is even greater.

What can I do?

Choosing a healthy lifestyle and habits is the most important step for managing the risks linked with metabolic syndrome. Research suggests that the following steps may be particularly helpful:

  • Maintain an optimal weight. Weight loss, if overweight, can improve blood sugar levels, lower blood pressure, and improve cholesterol levels. Talk with a doctor about your optimal weight and how to achieve and maintain that weight.
  • Exercise regularly. Aerobic exercise or strength training may improve blood sugar and cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and improve weight in people with metabolic syndrome. Engage in daily physical activity for better health.
  • Eat a balanced diet. A diet with less saturated fat and more unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids from fish may help improve blood sugar levels, reduce blood pressure, and decrease triglycerides in people with metabolic syndrome. A balanced diet also includes an abundance of fruit and veggies. Talk with a nutritionist about how to make wise dietary choices for optimum health.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking is bad for your health and increases the risk of heart disease and heart attacks. Research has shown that kicking the habit may also lead to better blood sugar control in people with metabolic syndrome.

More research is needed on the role of vitamins and minerals in the prevention and treatment of metabolic syndrome. One study found that, among 5,220 men and women followed for 7.5 years, a daily dietary supplement had no effect on the incidence of metabolic syndrome compared with placebo. People with higher levels of beta carotene and vitamin C at baseline in this study, however, had a lower incidence of metabolic syndrome compared with people with lower baseline levels. So while the jury is still out on the role of supplements in metabolic syndrome there may be benefit in eating antioxidant-rich foods such as a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.

Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, Web sites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.

(Am J Clin Nutr 2009;90:329–35.)

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