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Health is not merely the absence of disease. A bevvy of other lifestyle factors — including physical health, happiness, fitness, thoughts, relationships and so much more — come together to contribute to a symbiotic relationship in which your health is greatly affected by your “quality of life” — and vice versa.
So why don’t we as patients, and the doctors we see for medical help, seek to restore, improve and uplift our quality of life as a main premise to maintaining and creating health?
Is it because what most of mainstream medicine practices is not a wellness model, but an illness model…
Perhaps it’s because QOL is a concept and cannot be objectively measured….
Maybe it’s because there are too many patients for any given doctor to see on any given day, and simply not enough time to address “lifestyle” choices and changes that affect QOL…
Or is Big Pharma running the show, satisfying the “quick fix” expectations we’ve come to demand?
Well, no matter how you dissect the problem, QOL matters. A lot. So much so that it may change the way medicine is practiced.
Lifestyle four times better than drugs
This past September, the American Heart Associating (AHA) published a scientific statement that is of profound importance: “A healthy lifestyle is fundamental to the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease and other noncommunicable diseases. Investments in primary prevention, including modification of health risk behaviors, could result in a 4-fold improvement in health outcomes compared with secondary prevention based on pharmacological treatment.”
This is so important because it a rare that a science-based medical group pushes for a do-it-yourself, natural, behavior-based prevention and treatment model. Usually, their model of “wellness” is based on “correcting illness” after the fact.
Harvard speaks out
Dr. Eldrin Lewis, a cardiologist at Brigham & Women’s and Harvard Medical School, recently told MedpageToday, “We know that patients with heart failure have significant impairments in their quality of life. But this is something that in routine practice we don’t measure clinically. One of the reasons is because many clinicians don’t really understand the concept of quality of life.”
I agree. However, the road blocks include changing medical school curriculums, finding insurance companies that believe in it enough to establish billable codes and protocols. Unfortunately, most physicians do not believe in it, can’t bill for it, or simply see too many patients to be able to effectively counsel patients in this manner due to the way our current medical system works.
But the AHA understands the issue well. And to accomplish their goal of convincing more physicians to adopt this behavior modification and lifestyle-modification approach, the AHA is vying for “medical training to achieve competency in lifestyle counseling.” This, they assert, is an “essential foundation for prevention and treatment of cardiovascular diseases and other chronic medical conditions.”
Brick by brick
Another barrier is that many patients don’t feel they are able to help themselves. This is one of the biggest hurdles I faced in my holistic healing practice. Patients have been groomed to expect their health practitioner to “make” them well, not give them advice on how to affect their own health.
Additionally, even with full compliance of patients and health care providers, the AHA’s list of lifestyle characteristics is quite narrow in scope, including nutrition, physical activity, smoking, and adiposity (obesity).
There is so much more that affects quality of life and omitting these areas could deflate the entire lifestyle-as-medicine-movement when the outcomes don’t reach numbers as expected in clinical practice.
Lifestyle choices, health and QOL
QOL is a personal measure of how “good” your life is to you. Boy does that sound conceptually broad! And it is; after all QOL directly affects health and your state of health certainly affects QOL.
If you enjoy gardening, riding a bike, reading, meditating, and other activities, then these are things that created an improved quality of life. Subjectively, these are things you like to do and make you feel good about your life and better about each day you are able to do them.
Additionally, eating organic food, skipping processed foods as much as possible, getting ample sleep each night, exercising a few hours per week are wellness activities that not only improve QOL (because you will feel good as a result of doing them), but also directly affect your health.
Lifestyle choices like smoking, drinking too much alcohol, being sedentary, being argumentative, staying up too late, working too many hours, eating a poor quality diet, and not remaining hydrated are examples of lifestyle choices that adversely affect health.
Any combination of the above can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and chronic pain. In other words, these lifestyle choices can create poor health and place you at risk for early death… thus, they negatively affect (seriously decrease) your quality of life.
Lifestyle factors influencing QOL
For better or worse, there are so many choices we make each day that affect our quality of life and impact our health. Interestingly, they all are rooted in behaviors, and include: sleeping patterns, eating patterns, food choices, stress reduction, posture, interpersonal interactions, frequency of intimacy, frequency of exercise, hydration, creative outlets, worry and anxiety and so many more.
There is actually a demographic of people who have been advocating for lifestyle medicine, for humans and the planet. They are known as LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability), a market segment focused on health and fitness, the environment, personal development, sustainable living and social justice. You can read more about it here.
Health is a measure of our quality of life. The better your health the better your quality of life can be. And lifestyle choices, which are rooted in behaviors steeped in belief, affect your health in terms of prevention and restoration at a personal level. With a demographic behind the QOL movement and the medical establishment making strides to push for “lifestyle medicine,” let’s jump on board and make it the foundation of our health care.