By Tammy Petersen
Personal trainers have the opportunity to do more than just help people they train become more active. We need to be prepared to also help our clients implement lifestyle behavior changes related to stress, family history of coronary heart disease, obesity, smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
A look at what is called metabolic syndrome will help you understand why, even though increasing physical activity levels is the overall best thing you can do for any client, there are additional ways to guide them to a healthier lifestyle. Sometimes you may be able to help them make the changes yourself; and, sometimes you will need to refer them to another health professional like a doctor or dietitian for guidance. Either way, knowing how to help them or when to direct them to someone who is more knowledgeable than you is important. So, first let’s become familiar with the syndrome and the clinical criteria that the doctor uses to diagnose it. Your goal is then to help your clients understand and make the necessary changes so that they don’t progress to cardiovascular disease and the almost certain heart attack heart that will be the end result.
Cardiovascular disease is still the number one cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States and much of this burden of disease can be linked to poor nutrition and a dramatic increase in sedentary lifestyles, leading to overweight and obesity. This increase in weight leads to an increase in the incidence of type 2 diabetes, and blood pressure and cholesterol problems, which are all well-established cardiovascular disease risk factors. The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Adult Treatment Panel (ATP) III has updated the recommendations for the evaluation and management of adults dealing with high cholesterol, renewing its emphasis on the importance of lifestyle modifications for improving cardiovascular risk. The NCEP has coined the term “therapeutic lifestyle changes” (TLC) to reinforce both dietary intake and physical activity as crucial components of weight control and cardiovascular risk management.
As well as focusing attention on the LDL cholesterol (also called bad cholesterol) levels, the NCEP also identified metabolic syndrome as a secondary target of therapy. Metabolic syndrome (also called insulin resistance syndrome and syndrome X) is characterized by decreased tissue sensitivity to the action of insulin (pre-diabetes), resulting in a compensatory increase in insulin secretion. This metabolic disorder predisposes individuals to a cluster of abnormalities that can lead to such problems as type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke. The prevalence of the syndrome has increased 61% in the last decade. It is crucial for medical professionals to identify patients at risk and follow these patients closely and counsel them about making lifestyle changes to lower the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
GUIDELINE: According to the NCEP, the criteria for metabolic syndrome includes at least 3 of the following 5 clinical factors
Clinical criteria for the metabolic syndrome
|Risk factor||Defining level|
>40 in (>102 cm)
>35 in (>88 cm)
|Fasting triglyceride level||>150 mg/dL|
|HDL cholesterol level
|BP||>130/>85 mm Hg
or taking antihypertensive medication
|Fasting glucose level||>100 mg/dL or diabetes|
|Source: Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults. Executive Summary of the Third Report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (Adult Treatment Panel III). Bethesda, Md: National Institutes of Health; 2001. NIH publication 01-3670.|
Millions of Americans at risk for metabolic syndrome can sharply lower their chances of getting this disease by adopting a healthy lifestyle (stop smoking, low-fat diet, weight loss/maintenance and increased physical activity). Without diet and exercise modifications, most patients will eventually fail and progress to type 2 diabetes within a decade and experience a heart attack about 10 years later. Experts recommend a diet reduced in saturated fats (<7%), low in cholesterol (<200 mg/day), high in fiber (20-30gm/day) and reduced in simple sugars. Weight loss of only 5-7% (less than 15 pounds) can make a big difference in health markers like cholesterol and blood pressure. A program that includes daily exercise reaching 85% of heart rate for age is reported to be of benefit too. However, any exercise is better than none, and a target of 30 minutes every other day is a reasonable level for most people.
As a fitness professional reading this, hopefully you are not asking yourself “so what?” but are instead seeing an opportunity to educate and motivate your current clients and to use your knowledge to help attract future clients. The medical community is good at diagnosing this syndrome, but not necessarily equipped to provide patients with the tools to be successful with the lifestyle changes they recommend. There exists a wonderful opportunity to build a partnership with physicians in your area. Most physicians will gladly refer patients to you for help with the all-important exercise and nutrition portion of the treatment program. In many cases, you have more knowledge in this area than the physician who has been trained in tertiary, not preventative, (i.e. most MD’s know very little about diet and exercise since this is not a focus in medical school) medicine. Often times all that you will need to get a referral is for the doctor to be aware of your existence and to give them an easy way to get the patient to you. A short introduction letter outlining your qualifications and showing your desire to help people make lifestyle changes is a good start. A personal visit to your primary care doctor and others in your area is even better. But, be prepared to take up just a few minutes of their time to introduce yourself, your idea, and leave your letter and cards.
Check out AAHF specialty CEC programs to learn more about exercise and nutrition for special populations!
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Early release of selected estimates based on data from the January-June 2003 National Health Interview Survey. URL: cdc.gov/nchs/about/major/nhis/released200312.htm.
- Summary Health Statistics Tables for the U.S. Population: National Health Interview Survey, 2016 https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhis/SHS/tables.htm 16 Apr. 2018.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevalence of health care providers asking older adults about their physical activity levels—United States, 1998. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 51(19):412-4, 2002.
- Huang, Paul L. “A Comprehensive Definition for Metabolic Syndrome.” Disease Models & Mechanisms5-6 (2009): 231–237. PMC. Web. 16 Apr. 2018.