What if you could talk with your doctor and get a personalized “prescription” for life choices you could make that would prevent or even help treat diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease?
What if lifestyle interventions were looked on as legitimate, bona fide treatments, just as medications are? The growing discipline of lifestyle medicine is making this “what if” a reality.
According to the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, the definition of lifestyle medicine is the use of evidence-based lifestyle therapeutic interventions as a primary modality, delivered by clinicians trained and certified in this specialty, to prevent, treat and often reverse chronic disease. Their vision? Lifestyle medicine as the foundation of a transformed and sustainable system of health care.
Time to stop “medicalizing” disease
Dr. Michael Parkinson is a champion of lifestyle medicine.
“Frankly, we can no longer afford to ‘medicalize’ environmentally and behaviorally caused disease with more treatments, tests and procedures,” he says.
Dr. Parkinson was one of forty professionals who took part in the Lifestyle Medicine Research Summit at the University of Pittsburgh in December 2019.
The goal of the summit was to examine current knowledge in six core areas of lifestyle medicine:
- Plant-based nutrition
- Physical activity
- Addictive behaviors
- Positive psychology / social connection
Sound familiar? It’s no secret that lifestyle choices and changes can contribute to living a longer, healthier, more active life.
During the Summit, medical professionals spent time examining research in each of these areas. Afterward, Dr. Parkinson and his colleague, Yoram Vodovotz, professor of surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, published a paper outlining the major findings in the above six areas.
Their recommendations probably won’t surprise you…
7 lifestyle “medicines” for disease prevention
Whole-food, plant-based eating. A diet high in many types of vegetables (potatoes don’t count), including fruits of many colors and whole grains, and lower in animal products is key. Choose fish, poultry, beans, and nuts over red meat and cheese for your protein.
Regular physical activity. Daily moderate-to-vigorous aerobic physical activity has both immediate and long-term health benefits. How quickly our body ages is determined by cellular processes that are directly influenced by physical activity.
Restorative sleep. There is evidence that high-quality sleep can reduce inflammation, oxidative stress and DNA changes that are associated with chronic disease. At least seven hours of uninterrupted sleep is recommended for adults.
Stress management. Chronic stress increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, irritable bowel disease, obesity, depression, asthma, arthritis, autoimmune diseases, cancer, diabetes and neurological disorders.
Addiction reduction and elimination. More research is needed into how to predict who is more vulnerable to addiction, and into finding ways to intervene and prevent it.
Positive psychology and social connection. Social isolation and loneliness are killers. You don’t need to have a million friends, but having a small group of people you can rely on can support both your physical and mental health.
Reducing inflammation. More doctors than not recognize inflammation as the root of disease. And mountains of studies have more than cemented the role of inflammation in the very diseases mentioned above. Fortunately, lifestyle changes can help the body balance inflammation and keep it in check.
Lifestyle Medicine: An easier pill to swallow
While none of these recommendations may be surprising, it’s good to know that the medical profession is starting to take lifestyle changes seriously. They would certainly make for an easier pill to swallow.
More Americans than ever are sleep-deprived, stressed, overweight, and suffering from diseases directly related to these conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Adopting simple lifestyle strategies could mean the difference between achieving natural health and a lifetime of pills, procedures and often unnecessary treatments.
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American College of Lifestyle Medicine’s About Page — American College of Lifestyle Medicine
Lifestyle Medicine: An Alternative to Traditional Medicine — Western Pennsylvania Guide to Good Health