This week is Lifestyle Medicine Week!
A global celebration of healthy behaviours and raising awareness on the impact our choices can have on chronic disease.
What is Lifestyle Medicine?
Common diseases have changed dramatically over the last 50 years; from primarily acute and infectious diseases we have moved towards a place where chronic diseases have overtaken and now become more common. These include obesity, pre-diabetes and type-2 diabetes, hypertension, heart diseases such as heart attacks, strokes and many others. The majority of these have come about through changes in our lifestyles, which includes our work, our communities and our environments, as well as our individual behaviours.
Lifestyle Medicine is a branch of medicine, which focuses on the whole person and aims to improve health (and chronic disease). It focuses on key areas such as nutrition, physical activity, sleep, chronic stress, risky substance use ( alcohol/smoking) and social connectedness, with an overarching commitment to improving the environments in which we live. It is built on patient-centred care and involves evidence-based medicine, which goes back further to deal with the root cause, not just the acute presentation.
Examples of lifestyle impacting health include:
- inactivity and poor diet leading to weight gain, which leads to pre-diabetes and then type-2 diabetes, increasing the risk of heart attack or visual impairment
- poor sleep leading to fatigue and inactivity, weight gain and then type-2 diabetes or depression
- social isolation leading to inactivity, poor diet choices and depression, which then increases risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks
There is much evidence out there that lifestyle changes can improve and actually reverse many of these conditions.
What is Lifestyle Medicine not?
It is not integrative, alternative, functional or complementary medicine. It is scientific and fully evidence-based medicine, which is taught around the world in medical schools, particularly in the UK and US.
- It is not anti-medication. Some conditions may always need medications, but for others, often the underlying cause of disease can be addressed by lifestyle changes and the need for medication may be reduced or even reversed.
- It is not about fad diets. Nutrition recommendations are summarised by Michael Pollan "eat food, not too much, mostly plants". A whole food plant-based diet (WFPB diet) has many benefits, from reducing inflammation in the body to improving metabolic function, reducing cancer risks and improving cognitive function.
- It is not about supplements. You can get most of what your body needs from the right sort of food. Eat the rainbow! While there may be a need for B12 supplements in vegans, and some others depending on certain diseases, in general a WFPB diet in addition to increasing physical activity, improving sleep and reducing stress, can be enough. Expensive supplements are not part of lifestyle medicine.
- It is not traditional paternalistic medicine. Lifestyle Medicine builds on our knowledge of health and disease and is truly patient-centred. From the very beginning, you are involved in identifying goals, building an action plan and ultimately changing the behaviour yourself, with ongoing support from us. You take ownership!
Who is it helpful for?
It can be helpful for anyone! Many of us want to be healthy and a year like 2020 impressed on us just how important this is. For some, the April lockdown was a time for family and getting active outdoors, yet for others it was a time where loss of social connections or increased work stress really had a huge negative effect. As such, many of these lifestyle principles are just as beneficial for those with no current chronic disease or illness, but who want to look after their health for the future.
In addition, examples of where lifestyle medicine can really play an important role include conditions such as obesity, pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, coronary heart disease (causing angina and heart attacks), stroke prevention and COPD. The principles can also be used to improve symptoms from other health conditions like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), menopause, migraines, anxiety and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), amongst many others.
So, what does it involve? Dr Jayne Davies has completed study through the Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine and the American College of Lifestyle Medicine and is now a Board Certified Lifestyle Medicine Physician. As a lifestyle medicine doctor, she is trained to help people make sustainable lifestyle changes. Many chronic diseases have lifestyle factors as their root cause, others may not, but by working together we can improve and change the things you do have control over.
So come and talk to us at Aspiring Medical Centre about Lifestyle Medicine - and live the best life you can!