A healthy metabolism and the absence of metabolic syndrome are the hallmarks of metabolic health, which is reflected in metabolic age. Individuals with a lower metabolic age than their chronological age tend to live longer and have faster metabolisms and more energy. Because of their robust cellular health and reduced inflammation, they also experience fewer chronic illnesses.
Metabolic age reflects overall health by testing for a healthy metabolism, the biochemical process for fueling cells.
When cells thrive and convert fuel into work and energy for your organs, your chance of developing chronic illness drastically reduces.
Studies estimate that only 12.2–17.6% of Americans are metabolically healthy.
Currently, there is no standard way to measure metabolic health except meeting with a health or wellness professional for tests measuring metabolic health.
70–90% of metabolic age is determined by lifestyle and environmental factors that one can change and improve.
What is metabolic age and why it matters
Metabolism isn’t just about how fast or slow you lose weight and digest food — it’s the biochemical process for fueling cellular energy. A healthy metabolism reflects how fit, robust, and active cells are as they operate every system throughout the body.
Often, as we age, our metabolism slows as if our cells become tired. Many people believe a sluggish metabolism is unavoidable as they get older. However, you can boost metabolism at any age because a slower metabolism is more reflective of general health than it is age.
As a result, metabolic age, like epigenetic age, is one way to measure your overall health.
If your metabolic age is lower than your chronological age, you probably have lower levels of fat, more muscle, healthy hormones, and fewer toxins in your body. If you are of a healthy metabolic age, you most likely consume a diet that is balanced and nutrient-rich enough to power every cell in your body to keep you feeling strong and energized.
When cells thrive and turn fuel into work and energy for your organs, the risk of chronic illness plummets.
Americans are not metabolically healthy
A 2019 study published in the Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders journal found that only 12.2–17.6% of Americans are metabolically healthy.
"Prevalence of metabolic health in American adults is alarmingly low, even in normal weight individuals."Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders Journal
Research associates many chronic illnesses with poor metabolic functioning, like type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, dementia, stroke, poor immunity, and cancer, to name a few.
Metabolic syndrome (MetS) is a diagnosis defined by a cluster of signs, including insulin resistance, abdominal obesity, high triglycerides (bad fats), low high-density lipoproteins (good fats), and high blood pressure. When patients test positive for metabolic syndrome, their metabolic age is low, and their risk of developing chronic illness rises dangerously.
According to a study published in Frontiers in Endocrinology in 2022, 50% of Americans over age 65 and 34% of all American adults were estimated to have MetS.
Studies reveal that although metabolic syndrome is frequently associated with obesity, it can also affect people of normal weight.
Clinical signs of a low metabolic age
If you have any type of metabolic dysfunction and, therefore, a lower metabolic age, you may have these clinical signs or symptoms:
- A general lack of energy or frequent energy crashes
- Continual cravings for sugary snacks
- More body fat and less muscle
- An expanding waistline
- Increasing blood pressure, blood sugar, LDL and triglycerides
- Increasing difficulty in losing weight and keeping it off
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Poor immunity
It’s essential to talk with your healthcare provider if you face signs and symptoms of poor metabolic health.
The best way to calculate metabolic age
Scientists have yet to find the perfect metabolic age calculation because many factors affect your metabolic health, such as:
- Biological sex
- Mitochondrial health
- Body fat
- Muscle mass
- Physical activity
- Insulin resistance
- Thyroid health
As a result, there is currently no standardized way to measure metabolic age. Various calculations and types of software are available, but few, if any, are validated by research. Furthermore, since most calculators only compute basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is too limited to show your actual metabolic health, different calculators may provide you with different results.
BMR reflects your metabolism at complete rest. It is the rate at which you burn calories to keep your body alive when you're inactive. When your BMR is higher than others at your age, it may mean you are more metabolically healthy than other people, boasting less fat and more muscle, which burns more calories at rest.
As a result, comparing your BMR to others of the same age is helpful, but metabolism is more complicated and requires deeper testing.
Biological age tests are currently more evidence-based (backed by scientific studies) than metabolic age calculations. These epigenetic tests use blood samples to test factors like DNA, lipids, and metabolites to review your cellular health, similar to metabolic health.
Until better calculations for metabolic health are available to the public, it’s best to measure one’s overall metabolic health with a healthcare provider or metabolic health clinic.
4 tests to ask your doctor to measure and monitor
To uncover metabolic age more accurately, providers can measure and regularly monitor a patient’s metabolic health using these factors:
- Basal metabolic rate
- Waist circumference
- Fasting blood sugar levels
- Blood pressure
- Triglyceride levels
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels
- Uric acid levels
- Prescribed medication list
If you wish to gauge your metabolic age, ask your doctor to measure at least these four blood tests:
- HDL-to-triglycerides ratio
- Fasting glucose levels
- Blood pressure
- Uric acid levels
Discuss the results thoroughly with them and consider following the tips below to improve your metabolic health.
How to lower your metabolic age
The 2022 study published in Frontiers in Endocrinology estimates that genetics determines about 10–30% of the risk of developing metabolic syndrome (MetS). This also means your risk is 70–90% determined by lifestyle and environmental factors, which one can change and improve.
Studies say these factors increase the risk of MetS:
- Physical inactivity
- Inadequate nutrition
- Poor gut health
- Poor sleep
- Lower education levels
Tips for lowering your metabolic age
In truth, metabolic health is complex, but the data can be boiled down to actionable, healthy steps to improve metabolic health. Tips from current research include:
- Stay active. Exercise for at least 30 minutes five to seven days a week with activity that increases your heart rate, builds muscle, and works your entire body. Weight lifting and high-intensity interval training (HIIT), like sprint intervals, are key to increasing metabolism. The more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism runs because muscle metabolism is faster than fat metabolism. One doesn’t need to overdo the workouts. Ample rest and recovery are essential.
- Feast on nutritious food. Eat a diet rich in healthy proteins, whole foods, and omega-3 fatty acids. This ensures you eat plenty of micronutrients and the right balance of macronutrients to feed your cells.
- Plump up your cells. Stay hydrated with water and ample plant foods.
- Cut out the bad stuff. Minimize, or even eliminate, processed foods.
- Reduce your sugar intake. Aim to maintain a low-glycemic diet.
- Don’t skimp on sleep. Ensure good-quality sleep. One study suggests that sleep is more connected to your metabolism than you might think.
- Pamper your inner self. Manage stress in ways that fit your unique needs.
Benefits of improving metabolic age
Enhancing metabolic function has significant advantages beyond reducing the chance of developing chronic illnesses. Other benefits include:
- Enhanced muscle mass
- Faster metabolism (calorie-burning) at rest
- Sustained weight loss
- Increased energy
- Improved cognition
- Reduced cravings
- Lower blood sugar
The best part of boosting your metabolic health is feeling great, energetic, and motivated to enjoy life.
- Frontiers in Endocrinology. Incidence and long-term specific mortality trends of metabolic syndrome in the United States.
- Aging. Potential reversal of epigenetic age using a diet and lifestyle intervention: a pilot randomized clinical trial.
- Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism. Impact of 4 weeks of interval training on resting metabolic rate, fitness, and health-related outcomes.
- International Journal of Endocrinology. Sleep and Metabolism: An Overview.
- The Journal of Gerontology. Series A, Biological sciences and medical sciences. High Basal Metabolic Rate Is a Risk Factor for Mortality: The Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging.
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- BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care. Low basal metabolic rate is a risk factor for the development of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.