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Metabolic Syndrome: What Americans Needs to Know


By Dr. Patricia Pimentel Selassie, ND, CNS

Think of three people close to you right now, including yourself.  Picture these three people—you and your parents, or you and your two best friends.  Statistically, at least one of these three people has Metabolic Syndrome (1).  What’s more, the number of Americans with Metabolic Syndrome is growing at an alarming rate.  Metabolic Syndrome is the name of a group of risk factors that occur together and increase the risk for Coronary Artery Disease, Stroke, and Diabetes. 
You have Metabolic Syndrome if three of the following five risk parameters are true for you, according to your blood work:

  • Your triglycerides are greater than 150 mg/dl
  • Your HDL (the good) cholesterol is low (under 40 mg/dl for men and under 50 mg/dl for women)
  • Your fasting blood sugar is greater than 100 mg/dl
  •  Your blood pressure is greater than 130/85
  •  Your waist circumference is greater than 40 inches if you are male and greater than 35 inches if you are female. 

If you haven’t had blood work done recently, here is a simplified formula to see if you may be at risk for Metabolic Syndrome.  Take your height in inches and divide that in half, then measure your waist.  If your waist is more than half your height, you are at risk for Metabolic Syndrome. For example, if you are 72 inches tall, your waist should ideally be no more than 36 inches. 

Metabolic Syndrome is dangerous because it may be silent – you don’t become aware of it by pain or discomfort, with the exception of urinary frequency if your sugar is high.   So all too often, people do not become aware of Metabolic Syndrome’s potentially devastating effects. 

What is, in fact, a true blessing when it comes to Metabolic Syndrome is that once you know you have it and are motivated by its potentially devastating results, you can manage each of the parameters – you may even be able to reverse it.

One of the most effective ways to manage all five of the risk parameters is through exercise. There is plenty of evidence that demonstrates the benefits of exercise to lower blood pressure, clean up arteries, lower blood sugar, and prevent truncal (central) obesity. 

However, there are so many different types of exercise. Which type is optimal to help manage the effects of Metabolic Syndrome?

There has been some research on a few different types of exercise:

Moderate Intensity Continuous Exercise Training (MCT) – This entails exercising at a steady increased heart rate. During an MCT workout, you should be able to carry a conversation while breathing hard.  A MCT session usually runs for 30-60 minutes.

Weight Training or Resistance Training (RT) – This type of exercise traditionally uses weights or machines to put healthy strain on your muscles, encouraging their growth.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) – This is an exercise strategy that uses short bursts of very intense movements, such as sprinting, alternating with short intervals of recovery exercise using moderate movement, such as jogging. 

High Intensity Interval Resistance Training (HIIRT) – This exercise strategy uses short bursts of very intense movements that include resistance, often using your own body weight, such as serial squats, lunges, burpees, and plyometric jumping (rapid contracting and stretching of muscles), alternating with a short recovery time. 

Research has shown that all four types of exercise are beneficial for Metabolic Syndrome when compared to diet alone (2).  In addition, research shows that all four types of exercise improve risk factors for Metabolic Syndrome. This is demonstrated when measuring blood lipid levels: decreasing triglycerides (3) (10) (4), decreasing total cholesterol (3), decreasing bad cholesterol (LDL) (3) (10), and increasing good cholesterol (HDL) (4).  We can conclude that all four types of exercise support healthy blood sugar levels, thereby decreasing fasting glucose (5) (10), post-prandial glucose, and insulin levels (6) (10).  A lower HBA1C, which is the average blood sugar concentration over the past three months, is also achieved no matter which type of exercise is performed (7) (8) (10) .  It is also well- documented that patients with high blood pressure can benefit from all four types of exercise (9) (10).

As mentioned earlier, Metabolic Syndrome is often the result of obesity and inactivity.  When we examine the studies in terms of supporting body composition, the trend shows body mass index and decrease of body fat percentage with all types (4).  But it’s only with RT and HIIRT that we see lean body mass increase (11).  With resistance training, strength is also improved in elderly study subjects (5) (12).  A higher proportion of lean muscle mass and better strength is associated with better overall health as you age.

However, when comparing the four types of exercise, it appears that HIIRT has the most effective benefits.  HIIRT has a greater impact on lowering triglycerides, total cholesterol (3), insulin sensitivity, and HGA1C (7) (8), compared to MCT and RT alone.  When looking at factors that impact obesity, HIIRT decreases waist circumference (8), and increases caloric burn in a shorter amount of time (13).  When combining HIIRT with a high protein diet, you can achieve greater weight loss and improve your overall body composition (11).  In hypertensive patients, it has also been found that HIIRT reduces TNF-alpha (a cell-signaling protein involved in inflammation) levels, which is associated with a greater decrease in body mass index (14).  Inflammation control is important for people with Metabolic Syndrome in order to decrease their risk of a cardiovascular event, stroke, or a diagnosis of diabetes. HIIRT also increases Nesfatin, which is responsible for regulating hunger and fat storage, helping people feel satiated and burn fat (6).

About 20 years ago, there was a genuine focus on MCT throughout the health industry.  People were taught to run on a treadmill at a steady rate, or participate in an aerobics class to increase the heart rate and maintain a specific heart rate until the cool down portion of the class.  However, the latest research appears to show that HIIRT gives the most benefits. HIIRT involves performing specific exercises at the highest possible intensity while keeping proper form until you have reached your maximum capacity.  These exercises involve not only cardio moves that increase your heart rate, but strength training that engages muscle fibers, alternating with a few seconds of rest and recovery before moving to the next exercise.  The beauty of this type of exercise is that you’re able to advance at your own level instead of trying to keep up with everyone in a class.  Another benefit of HIIRT is that it typically occurs in shorter sessions, often 30 minutes, versus MCT or RT which generally utilize longer sessions.

Ancient types of exercise like Yoga and Tai Chi have a plethora of great benefits beyond helping with Metabolic Syndrome. However, there has not been much research on these types of exercise in relation to the risk factors of Metabolic Syndrome. 

If this article motivates you to start an HIIRT exercise regime, be sure to start slowly.  If certain exercises are too difficult, modify them to fit your ability. Never compare your performance to others’ – work to your own maximum potential. Listen to your body to avoid injury. Working with a partner or exercise group helps as well in terms of motivation. It’s a good idea to separate your workouts by 24 hours and always take a rest day at least once per week, since your muscles need time to recover in order to build strength. If you find yourself having a difficult time with your exercise performance, if your post-exercise recovery takes longer than a day, or if you want to build muscle mass, consider using nutritional supplements such as green tea, magnesium, whey protein, creatine, or branched chain amino acids (BCAA).

Check out InVite Health’s great line of nutritional supplements to increase protein and muscle recovery, improve metabolism, burn fat and buffer carbs. Below are some of our most effective products for improvement of metabolic factors:

The benefits of exercise won’t happen overnight, so be patient, stick to your regime and watch the progress happen. Have fun!     


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  2. Yang ZScott CAMao CTang JFarmer AJ. Resistance exercise versus aerobic exercise for type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. 
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