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Thu, Feb. 27

Avoid metabolic syndrome with fruit, exercise

If you were a fruit, what kind would you be? The firm yet sweet banana? The elegant and exotic papaya? Finding the fruit that parallels your personality can be a fun exercise. But looking in the mirror and seeing a plump apple is a different experience.

Apple-shaped people may or may not have crisp, tart personalities, but they do have one thing in common: They face eye-opening health risks. Carrying excess fat around the midsection is an easy-to-spot risk factor for metabolic syndrome.

What is metabolic syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is actually a combination of risk factors for developing heart disease - the number one killer of American men and women - and type 2 diabetes. The word "metabolic" refers to how the body uses energy. Metabolic syndrome is a problem with this process. It's also sometimes called syndrome X and insulin resistance syndrome because the body may not be able to effectively use insulin, a hormone needed to help change blood sugar into energy.

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, it's estimated that nearly 50 million people in the U.S. (a quarter of the population) have metabolic syndrome. Having at least three of the following risk factors may suggest metabolic syndrome:

• An apple-shaped body: A waist circumference of 40 inches or greater for men and 35 inches or greater for women.

• High blood sugar: Blood glucose higher than 100mg/dL (measured while fasting).

• High triglycerides, or blood fats:150 mg/dL or higher may contribute to hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis).

• Low HDL: This "good" cholesterol may protect against heart attack. Lower than 40 mg/dL for men and 50 mg/dL for women is typically unhealthy.

• High blood pressure: It forces the heart to work harder than normal. Healthy blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg.

No age limits

Medical experts have long known that conditions such as excess belly fat and high blood pressure are dangerous to adults' heart health but, until recently, didn't know the extent to which children are at risk. Now a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition pinpoints several factors that may help identify children who are also at risk:

• Lack of cardiovascular exercise and physical activity: Most children need at least an hour of physical activity daily. TV and sit-down video games take away from time that could be spent playing.

• High maternal body mass index (an overweight mother): Kids benefit from seeing parents manage their own weight.

Helping a child increase his or her daily moderate-intensity physical activity by as little as 10 to 20 percent may help prevent metabolic syndrome. The American Heart Association suggests the same for adults: Increase physical activity to lose excess weight and keep your heart healthy.

Get moving

Find simple ways to boost physical activity in your home:

• Delegate age-appropriate chores - raking leaves and scrubbing floors.

• Plan family outings centered on fitness - hiking, biking and other vigorous family interests.

• Give fitness-oriented gifts - yoga mats, jump ropes and other sports equipment.

And eating plump fruits can help people of all ages avoid looking like them. Look for fruits high in fiber and water content and low in calories - including apples, apricots, kiwifruits and oranges - to help you manage your weight and take a bite out of metabolic syndrome.

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