Lifestyle Medicine

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Remember that adage? In today’s high-tech, high-complexity world, advice like this may seem old-fashioned and shortsighted. But there’s truth in the saying—even today! Of course, an apple a day by itself isn’t enough. However, studies show that simple lifestyle changes, including what we eat, can add up to better outcomes for our health and well-being.

Like the adage, this isn’t a new concept. Anytime a patient has come into my practice with high blood pressure, new-onset diabetes, or even chronic heartburn, we’ve prescribed the proper medication, if needed, and recommended appropriate lifestyle changes. What is new is the recognized practice of “lifestyle medicine” as part of the treatment plan.

What is lifestyle medicine?

Lifestyle medicine is an evidence-based approach to healthcare that integrates six “pillars” of good health to help treat, slow down, reverse and even prevent chronic diseases that are directly related to how we live our lives. Incorporating lifestyle medicine into a patient’s treatment plan requires motivation and dedication. But the end result could benefit health outcomes well into a patient’s future, helping them reduce or even eradicate the need for medication over time.

What diseases can lifestyle medicine help treat?

High blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, asthma, chronic heartburn, obesity, arthritis—these are all illnesses we have been programmed to believe we just have to “deal with” as we get older. While our genetics definitely can play a role in some of these illnesses, many times, it’s how we live our lives that makes a greater impact on our health and well-being.

Consider a patient coming to my office for a follow-up appointment after being diagnosed with new onset diabetes. Along with prescribing the proper medication, we talk about small lifestyle changes that can improve their health. These include:

·         Dietary changes—reducing red meat and dairy, and increasing fiber

·         Exercise—finding an activity that is enjoyable and sustainable

·         Identifying stressors—determining what’s causing stress for the patient and developing ways to manage it

Within two to three months, this patient’s diabetes is much better controlled, and we can start to wean them off medications.

How does it work?

The goal of lifestyle medicine is to help a patient make small yet significant changes that can encourage larger changes and lead to better health outcomes. This can happen by introducing these six evidence-based pillars:

1.      Nutrition: Perhaps most obvious, altering one’s diet can have a significant impact on long-term health. We encourage a diet rich in whole, mostly plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, and seeds.

2.      Physical activity: No one is asked to run a marathon. Rather, we try to find regular exercise routines and activities a patient can enjoy daily—and maintain throughout their life.

3.      Stress management: Stress can impact both mental and physical health. We focus on helping patients manage their stress by learning coping mechanisms and reduction techniques.

4.      Avoiding risky substances: Habits like smoking can be hard to break. But the benefits can reap huge rewards. We talk with patients about how to stay away from high-risk substances like tobacco and addictive drugs, and limit others such as caffeine and alcohol.

5.      Restorative sleep: More than just how many hours, quality of sleep also matters. Poor sleep can cause reduced immunity, inflammation, and other health issues. We work with patients to help them improve their “sleep hygiene” so that they sleep better and feel more rested.

6.      Positive social connections: Studies show that when people have a strong network of social support, they increase their chances of making and maintaining healthy lifestyle changes.

Lifestyle medicine isn’t replacing, but rather complementing, what we consider traditional approaches to modern medicine. If you really look at these six pillars, we can all integrate them into our lives, along with regular checkups with our primary care provider, whether we are 5, 15, 55 or 85 years old. It’s never too late to change. It’s never too late to reverse our behaviors and improve our health. Small, simple, and consistent steps can lead to large leaps toward better health. So, start with that apple a day and see where it leads!

David Morcos, DO
By David Morcos, DO
Primary Care, Garnet Health Doctors

Dr. David Morcos obtained his medical degree from Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and completed his residency program at Garnet Health Medical Center. He is board certified in Family Medicine. He is also a member of the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) and the American College of Family Practitioners. (AAFP)

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