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Take control of metabolic syndrome

Two people eating a healthy meal.

If you're one of the millions of Americans with a cluster of risk factors known as metabolic syndrome, lifestyle changes can lower your risk for problems such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Being diagnosed with metabolic syndrome can be confusing. What exactly does it mean? The short answer: Metabolic syndrome isn't one condition. It's a cluster of conditions that, in combination, form a serious risk to your health.

Successful treatment for metabolic syndrome depends on you playing an active role in your healthcare.

Know the risks—and how to reduce them

According to the American Heart Association, metabolic syndrome raises your risk for developing heart disease or type 2 diabetes. You have the syndrome if you have three or more of the following:

  • Abdominal obesity. This means a waist circumference of greater than 40 inches for men and greater than 35 inches for women.
  • A triglyceride level of 150 mg/dL or greater.
  • HDL cholesterol of less than 40 mg/dL in men or less than 50 mg/dL in women.
  • Blood pressure greater than or equal to 130/85.
  • A fasting glucose of 100 mg/dL or greater.

Lifestyle changes are essential when it comes to taking care of these risk factors and reducing the risk for future health problems.

Your healthcare provider will help you plan specific steps to reduce your risks. In general, these strategies are key:

Lose excess pounds. Of all the risk factors for metabolic syndrome, overweight and obesity—especially abdominal obesity—may be the most important to change. Too much fat around the belly is a greater risk factor for heart disease than having too much fat anywhere else in the body.

If you're overweight, reducing your body weight by 7% to 10% can significantly improve conditions such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar and abnormal cholesterol levels, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Your provider or a dietitian can help you plan a nutritious diet and reach a healthy weight. You'll probably need to make lifestyle changes, such as cutting back on calories and increasing your activity level.

Exercise more. Beyond its role in weight control, regular exercise can help:

  • Lower your risk of high cholesterol, coronary artery disease and heart attack.
  • Lower high blood sugar and help insulin work better.
  • Lower high blood pressure.

Ask your provider what type of exercise you should do. It might be something as simple as taking 30-minute walks most days of the week.

If you smoke, quit. Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease.

Eat right. You can help reduce blood pressure, cholesterol and the risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes by choosing a heart-healthy diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables and whole grains; fish that isn't fried; and only small amounts of saturated and trans fats (aim for zero trans fats), added sugars, and sodium.

Stay the course. Your provider will help monitor your treatments by regularly checking your blood pressure, cholesterol and other risk factors. They may also prescribe medicines—to lower blood pressure or abnormal cholesterol levels, for example.

Keep in mind that even if your risk factors for heart disease and diabetes don't add up to metabolic syndrome, it's still important to monitor and manage them.

Reviewed 11/1/2023

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