To avoid metabolic syndrome is relatively simple – 30 minutes of physical activity once a week

Metabolic syndrome is a condition that is affecting thousands of Canadians and is putting them at risk of heart disease and stroke, especially those aged 50 and over.

But the latest information from a Heart and Stroke Foundation researcher shows that the way to avoid metabolic syndrome is relatively simple – 30 minutes of physical activity once a week. (The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends that Canadians be physically active for at least 30 minutes on most, preferably all, days of the week)

Once a week sounds easy, but do we have the willpower to use the exercise prescription?

Dr. Peter Katzmarzyk is betting that we do. According to the evidence he presented today, at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in Calgary, the alternative is just too grim to consider. 

Metabolic Syndrome is defined as the presence of three or more out of five key risk factors for heart disease and stroke in one person. People with metabolic syndrome are at increased risk of heart disease, stroke or type-2 diabetes.

“Each risk factor, on its own, may require treatment but may not appear to be life-threatening.  Put three out of five of these ‘low-grade” symptoms together and you have a recipe for potential heart attack and stroke,” says Dr. Katzmarzyk, associate professor of kinesiology at the School of Physical and Health Education at Queen’s University, Kingston.

The risk factors are:

  • Abdominal obesity: waist circumference greater than 102 cm (40 inches) for men, greater than 88 cm (35 inches) for women.
  • Elevated levels of triglycerides (blood fats) (³1.7 mmol/L).
  • Low levels of high density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL or good cholesterol) (less than 1.0 mmol/L for men, less than 1.2 mmol/L for women)
  • High blood pressure (³130 mmHg systolic and/or 85 mmHg diastolic)
  • Impaired fasting glucose (greater than or equal to 6.1 mmol/L)

Over age 50, the figures – and the risk of heart attack and stroke – begin to soar, according to Dr. Alexander Sorisky, a Heart and Stroke Foundation researcher in endocrinology and metabolism at The Ottawa Hospital – Civic Campus.

“Credible studies suggest that metabolic syndrome can double or even triple the risk of dying from coronary heart disease,” says Dr. Sorisky. 

Heart and Stroke Foundation researchers Dr. Sonia Anand and Dr. Salim Yusuf of McMaster University have established a Canadian prevalence rate for metabolic syndrome of 25.8% but warn that this changes dramatically by ethnic group. For example the rate is 41.6% among first nations’ people, 25.9% among South Asian, 22% among South Asians and Europeans and 11% among Chinese.

Dr. Katzmarzyk’s study is based on data from the Canadian Heart Health Surveys of 4,750 men and 4,812 women aged 18-74 years in Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, Quebec and Saskatchewan.

The study participants were classified as physically active if they participated in physical activity at least once a week for 30 minutes.

Individuals who were active had half the risk of developing metabolic syndrome compared to those who were inactive.

“These results show that physical activity is an extremely potent medicine. This is another reason for Canadians to get out and be active – just a little effort can really protect your health,” he says.

The Canadian Cardiovascular Congress is the largest meeting of cardiovascular health professionals in Canada, with 3,000 attendees.  The Congress is hosted by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and the Canadian Cardiovascular Society.

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