Weighty issues

by Karen Bowen

We all know that an active lifestyle really benefits our overall health. Unfortunately, trucking limits your ability to engage in regular physical activity.

As a result, occasional weight fluctuations may cause you to temporarily let out your belt a few notches, or reach a little further to engage your seatbelt. Although slight weight changes are normal and manageable, if your weight gain is excessive and the extra pounds have mostly settled in your waist and trunk, you may be affected by a more serious condition: metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome, a weight condition impacting one-third of North American adults, is often first recognized because of body shape changes. For a man, his body has assumed the shape of an apple, and for a woman, hers has taken the shape of a pear.

It is a cluster of three or more conditions that occur together, and is a serious condition where fat accumulates in organs that don’t usually store fat, such as the liver. Metabolic syndrome increases your risk of stroke, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes.

Some signs of metabolic syndrome are increased blood pressure (over 130/85); elevated fasting blood sugar (over 100 mg/dL); reduced good/HDL cholesterol (under 40 mg/dL for men and 50 mg/dL for women); high triglyceride levels (over 150 mg/dL); and excess body fat around the waist (over 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women). Although the symptoms of most of the conditions clustered in metabolic disorder may go unnoticed, those of diabetes (fatigue, blurred vision, and increased thirst and urination) and a growing waist circumference are more apparent.

Even though this syndrome is closely linked to being overweight, obese or inactive, it can also result from insulin resistance – a condition that reduces cells’ ability to utilize sugars.

During normal digestion, your system breaks down the foods you eat into sugar, which is then used by your cells as a fuel. Insulin, a hormone produced by your pancreas, helps the sugar enter your cells. However, for people with insulin resistance, the cells don’t respond normally to insulin, preventing glucose from entering the cells easily. As a result, blood sugar levels continue to rise, which triggers the pancreas to produce more insulin, creating a harmful imbalance.

As you age, your risk increases. However, whenever possible, take steps to address the following risk factors: if you have coronary artery disease; if you carry too much weight, especially in your abdomen; and if you have a family history of Type 2 diabetes, or if you had diabetes during pregnancy.

Your risk is high if you have sleep apnea, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or a hormone disorder, such as polycystic ovary syndrome.

Ethnicity is also a factor, especially if your background is African, Aboriginal, Asian, Pacific Islander, or Hispanic. Your risk is greatest if you are a Hispanic woman.

Even though some of these risk factors are unavoidable, by committing to a healthy lifestyle you may prevent the clustered conditions that develop into metabolic syndrome and also improve your overall health. Maintain a healthy weight – losing seven to 10% of your body weight can reduce insulin resistance and blood pressure and decrease your risk of diabetes. Improve your diet – eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, lean protein and whole grains, while limiting your intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, alcohol, saturated and trans-fats and salt. Avoid smoking.

Add exercise; aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days. In your downtime, get moving. Walk around the yard, do a few chin-ups, squats or push-ups, or stretch – anything to get your heart pumping. As well, manage stress – add physical activity, meditation or yoga to your day.

However, when making these aggressive diet and exercise lifestyle changes are not enough, your doctor may recommend medications to help control cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure levels.

So, if you carry extra weight around your middle, make sure it doesn’t become a dead weight.

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