What is lifestyle medicine?
More and more, patients are turning away from pills and towards integrative medicine. Lifestyle medicine is becoming a more mainstream practice. It is no longer a far-fetched idea. Unlike conventional methods, lifestyle medicine seeks to incorporate healing into a lifestyle. IWhen it comes to prevention, treatment, and reversal of disease, it’s an evidence-based and more holistic approach. Unhealthy habits can be changed to healthy ones. The evidence continues to build, revealing that nutrition, the use of natural supplements and remedies, and healthy lifestyle behavior has a direct impact on disease prevention and cure.
“An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.” -Benjamin Franklin
The basis of lifestyle medicine promotes the body’s natural modes of healing. It assists nature in healing rather than going against it. It seeks to treat the root cause rather than the symptoms. It considers the person’s lifestyle at home and the environment.
There are five common categories regarding lifestyle medicine:
- Optimal nutrition
- Managing Stress
- Healthy relationships
- Avoiding harmful substances
Rest: Good quality sleep is important for the prevention of disease. Our bodies need time to repair and recover to keep the immune system at a healthy level.
Optimal nutrition: While practitioners of lifestyle medicine are divided on what constitutes the “right” diet, there is a wholehearted agreement that good nutrition is key for good health. We abide by the American College of Lifestyle Medicine’s principles, which focus on whole, plant-based foods.
Managing stress: Managing stress improves health and our ability to be productive in life. Stress leads to anxiety and depression, and overall poor health. Learning how to manage stress is liberating and leads to a better quality of life.
Healthy relationships: Healthy relationships are important to maintain since they affect our overall health. Interaction and connectedness promote happiness and, in turn, can help decrease depression. Studies show that isolation is associated with mortality and morbidity.
Avoiding harmful substances: The use of tobacco and other harmful substances lead to an increased risk of cancer and heart disease.
“…Medical education in lifestyle medicine is… a necessary intervention to allow all health providers to learn how to effectively and efficiently counsel their patients toward adopting and sustaining healthier behaviors.” (1)
When people approach me for lifestyle and nutrition coaching, my hope is that they would adopt the plant-based diet, get at least thirty minutes of exercise a day, and adopt other healthy lifestyle habits.
Who practices lifestyle medicine, and how?
Osteopathic physicians and physicians that practice lifestyle medicine seek to address the root causes and treat the patient holistically while focusing on preventive care. Physicians can do this by providing lifestyle counseling in their practice. Robyn Dreibelbis, DO, who teaches a course on nutrition in medicine at the Western University of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific-Northwest, says,
“Every single physician should be an expert in lifestyle medicine. We all need to engage conversations on lifestyle determinants of health with our patients.” (2)
Many physicians who practice lifestyle medicine incorporate group wellness classes into their treatment approach. During the counseling sessions, the physician can learn more about what the patient’s needs are and construct a guide or plan for them accordingly. Group classes will help build relationships and support for one another.
Because the methods of lifestyle medicine require a different structure than conventional medicine, there are a few challenges involved in practicing lifestyle medicine. However, I believe the practice of incorporating lifestyle changes will still grow and continue to benefit.
Practice challenges of lifestyle medicine
A typical consultation lasts about fifteen minutes, making it difficult to thoroughly assess a patient’s lifestyle. Additionally, because insurance companies don’t consistently honor preventive care benefits, there can be challenges with obtaining reimbursements for the time spent on advising patients. This benefit is under the Affordable Care Act, where patients should be able to receive counseling without a copay.
Although there may still be resistance in the medical community, many doctors and schools are looking to embrace something new – something more effective. This doesn’t mean that conventional medicine is completely tossed out the window, but simply that it needs repair.
Lifestyle medicine addresses the person as a complete unit. It isn’t just about diabetes or hypertension but addressing the root causes of the condition. But it doesn’t stop there. Educating ourselves on the right principles of healthy living will bring about good changes.
Are you interested in leading a lifestyle medicine-based group class? Health professionals have used Diabetes Undone, an 8-session group workshop that teaches people how they can reverse type 2 diabetes with simple lifestyle changes.