metabolic syndrome

How to exercise right for metabolic syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a group of disorders that affects between 20 – 30% of Australian adults. It greatly increases your chance of suffering a heart attack or stroke, or developing type 2 diabetes. So, is exercise safe for people with metabolic syndrome? And what types of exercise are best? Let’s take a look…

What is metabolic syndrome?

Metabolic Syndrome is not a medical issue that appears overnight. For those that have this diagnosis, it is likely that you’ve spent some time in the medical system working to treat other health concerns. This syndrome is diagnosed from a collection of cardiovascular risk factors. Central obesity (waist circumference: men >102cm, women > 88cm) is initially diagnosed, followed by a combination of two of either:

  • Hypertension (blood pressure: >130 / >85 mmHg)
  • Hyperglycaemia ( >15mmol/L)
  • decreased high-density lipoprotein (HDL: men < 1.0 mmol/L, women <1.3mmol/L),
  • and increased triglycerides (TG: > 1.7mmol/L)1,2.

The combination of these risk factors can lead to future development of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

What are the risk factors?

There are several groups more likely to develop this syndrome, including older adults, overweight and obese individuals. Women are known to be at a higher risk of syndrome development than men, with females trending towards greater central adipose tissue levels, lower HDL levels and elevated triglyceride levels post menopause.

How can exercise help?

The type of exercise performed can illicit different benefits for individuals with metabolic syndrome. It has been established that exercise training can partly reverse metabolic syndrome, with the most effective intensity required still to be determined. The main areas of focus are aerobic and resistance-based exercise. Aerobic exercise refers to activity creating stress on the cardiovascular system (i.e. heart and lungs).  Typical methods of completion include long periods of moderately intensive activity with rest periods of a similar length, or continuous activity for greater than 30 minutes maintaining the same work intensity. Resistance based exercise focusses predominantly on building muscle mass, which facilitates greater glucose uptake into the muscular tissue.

The combination of both resistance and aerobic activity can assist with improving the action of insulin in the process of glucose removal, and in turn assist with improved control of blood glucose levels. These activities can also assist with other risk factors of metabolic syndrome including reduced low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels, improvement to high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels and improve mental health conditions associated with diagnosis (e.g. depression).

exercise and metabolic syndrome

Everyone is different

One single type of recommended exercise prescription does not exist specifically for metabolic syndrome. Guidelines take into consideration all 5 potential risk factors, as well as any resulting related health conditions. For this reason, a combination of guidelines, as determined by the appropriate health professional, will be individualised per case. Aerobic activity (i.e. walking, swimming, cycling) recommendations span between 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week, with resistance (body-weight or weights based) training included on three to four non-consecutive days. The key to following any of these guidelines is that they must be sustained for a long duration.

An Accredited Exercise Physiologist should be approached as soon as possible in this process! An exercise intervention can be useful to assist with managing any presenting risk factors prior to an official metabolic syndrome, or once a diagnosis has been made. Your exercise physiologist will cater programming towards what is most suitable for you, focusing not only on the medical conditions you have presented with, but also what you’re capable of and what you would like to achieve.

Written by Nicola Carlish, Accredited Exercise Physiologist.