Metabolic Syndrome and Exercise
Metabolic syndrome is characterized by a series of abnormalities that, when found together, increase a person’s risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular problems. People with metabolic syndrome have at least three of the following risk factors:
• Large waist circumference (visceral adiposity)
• Dyslipidaemia (Low levels of HDL cholesterol and high levels of triglycerides)
• High blood pressure
• Elevated glucose blood sugar levels after fasting
Exercise is both preventative and first line treatment for MetSyn and related conditions. Exercise can help prevent a progression to obesity, thyroid conditions, heart disease and stroke by reducing blood glucose, blood lipid levels and blood pressure.
How much exercise is the right amount?
It is generally recommended that those who have MetSyn should participate in at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise most days of the week. For those who have high blood sugar, it is important to exercise frequently because improvements in blood glucose levels drop after 24-48 hours from the last exercise session.
Is intense exercise appropriate?
Vigorous exercise is defined as at least 2 1/2 hours per week of activities such as walking a 15 minute mile, or 2 hours a week of jogging or cycling. Research has shown that alternating moderately-paced exercise with interval training pace (such as vigorous exercise) can help with weight loss. Interval training has been shown to improve blood sugar control, insulin response, and cholesterol levels to a greater degree than moderately paced exercise alone. For instance, researchers in Norway found that interval training showed greater improvements in insulin sensitivity, aerobic capacity and HDL levels in study participants, compared to lower intensity exercise. In addition, interval-trained study participants lowered their blood glucose levels more than participants from continuous moderate exercise control groups.
What type of exercise is ideal?
Most aerobic exercise using large muscle groups will be effective treatment for those with MetSyn. This includes walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, dancing, and more. Building muscle through resistance training is also important in order to increase calorie burning and help with fat loss.
That said, for those who are new to exercise or who have a cluster of medical abnormalities, some types of exercise may not be safe initially. It is important to seek qualified medical help, including enlisting the help of a Kinesiologist with experience in medical exercise prescription.
Walking is generally safe and accessible, and can be progressed as one’s ability and fitness levels improve. Most people can begin with 10 minutes per day of moderate walking and progress to more vigorous walking and other activities including resistance training. Moderate walking is defined as 3 miles per hour or less, while more intense walking is 4 miles per hour or more.
How to Begin (for New Exercisers with MetSyn):
Once you have medical clearance and have consulted a qualified exercise professional, you can likely begin with a speed of up to 3 miles per hour for 10 minutes, gradually increasing your time until you are able to walk for at least 30 minutes. If it is deemed safe, you can then progress to short speed bursts which bring up your heart rate followed by recovery time which allows time for your heart rate to drop a bit and for you to catch your breath. It is important to build your slower speed overall time first, and then add intervals as able and after you have a base level of fitness. It is important to add in some muscle building exercises into your overall program as well.
Orakzai RH, Orakzai SH, Nasir K, et al. Association of increased cardiorespiratory fitness with low risk for clustering of metabolic syndrome components in asymptomatic men. Arch Med Re. 2006;37:522-528.
Pollin IS, Kral BG, Shattuck T, et al. High prevalence of cardiometabolic risk factors in women considered low risk by traditional risk assessment. J Womens Health. 2008;doi:10.1089/jwh.2007.0640.
Tjonnas AE, Lee SJ, Rogonmo O, et al. Aerobic interval training vs. continuous moderate exercise as a treatment for the metabolic syndrome: a pilot study. Circulation. 2008;doi:10.1161/circulationaha.108.772822.
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