Lifestyle medicine is a fancy word (ok, two words) that boils down to taking a holistic, physician-led approach to our health.
Instead of looking at things in isolation – medication, diet, exercise — in lifestyle medicine, doctors and patients zoom out to take a broader view.
We tend to go to the doctor when something’s wrong; when we have a symptom that we need to address. While a specific symptom or symptoms may be what lead patients to explore lifestyle medicine as a possible course, it’s a holistic approach goes well beyond symptomatic treatment.
Rather, lifestyle medicine addresses the “six pillars of health” that, when working together, support total health. By thinking holistically instead of addressing individual symptoms, lifestyle medicine can lead patients to happier, healthier lives while reducing or even eliminating the need for some prescription medications.
In short, consider this branch of medicine as the ultimate self improvement program. It’s not a miracle cure. It’s not the fountain of youth. That said, the results can feel miraculous and lifestyle medicine can slow or even turn back the clock on aging.
Lifestyle medicine requires work, both on the part of the doctor and the patient. Working together and taking a total view of health though, patients and doctors can see incredible results.
Six pillars of health
Lifestyle medicine is most successful when led by a trained physician specializing in holistic medicine. Interventions include everything from dietary changes and exercise to stress management and prioritizing meaningful social connections.
At its core, lifestyle medicine is about making simple changes that can have a big impact on our health. It’s based on the idea that we are not victims of our genes. Rather, our lifestyle choices play at least as big a role in determining our overall health.
In lifestyle medicine, we get holistic, physician-led support in alignment with the six pillars of health, which are:
One foundation of good health is a nutritious diet. Healthy foods reduce inflammation, promote healthy weight loss and lower the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Fad diets come and go. Advice for healthful eating doesn’t change: prioritize whole, unprocessed foods. That means plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein.
Regular physical activity is vital for overall health. It helps to reduce stress, improves cardiovascular health and prevents chronic conditions and diseases such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
As a lifestyle medicine practitioner will advise, physical activity doesn't have to mean pumping weights at the gym or running for hours on end. Even moderate exercise, like brisk walking, can have significant health benefits when practiced regularly and in concert with the other pillars of health.
Stress can seem like an everyday fact of life so it’s easy to overlook the role stress plays in overall health. Managing stress is an essential part of preventive and lifestyle medicine.
Chronic stress can lead to a number of mental and physical health problems including anxiety, depression, cardiovascular disease and even chronic pain. Lifestyle medicine interventions such as yoga, meditation and mindfulness can help to reduce stress and improve overall health.
Relationship management and social connection
Strong social connections are essential not just for mental and emotional health but also for our physical wellbeing. Lifestyle medicine might recommend interventions such as group therapy, support groups and community-based programs to help build healthy relationships and meaningful social connections.
If there are toxic relationships in your life, lifestyle medicine can help find healthier ways to prioritize your own wellbeing while managing those relationships.
Quality sleep is crucial for both physical and mental health. Lifestyle medicine interventions such as sleep hygiene education, relaxation techniques and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help to improve our sleep and overall health.
The amount of sleep needed varies depending for individuals and with age, lifestyle and overall health, but between seven and eight hours of restful sleep each night is a good benchmark.
Avoiding risky substances
Substances such as tobacco, alcohol and recreational drugs can have a clear negative impact on our health. These substances can become ingrained in our daily lives without us even realizing it. Lifestyle medicine interventions such as education, counselling and cessation therapy can help us to break these habits and in turn, improve our overall health.
The benefits of lifestyle medicine
The holistic approach this branch of medicine take can have a profound impact on our health. Make no mistake: there’s work involved. With a physician-led approach though, patients have a supportive coach alongside them for the journey. Anyone willing to do the work and focus on six pillars of health as outlined above, can achieve incredible results.
A healthier life
The six pillars of health for lifestyle medicine all lead to one important outcome: a healthier life. By getting straight to the heart of the matter and treating the whole as opposed to one specific condition, patient outcomes can be greatly improved.
Reducing dependence on medication
Lifestyle medicine can help to reduce dependence on medication by taking steps to address the root causes of chronic diseases – such as stress, poor diet, social isolation or other factors.
Lifestyle medicine can help to extend your life by preventing, treating and even reversing chronic diseases. Diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer which are among the leading causes of death in North America.
Enhanced physical fitness
In addition to improving your overall health, lifestyle medicine can also help to enhance your physical fitness. This can lead to improved energy levels, increased strength and endurance.
Improved mental wellbeing
With its focus on total physical and mental wellbeing, lifestyle medicine can help achieve increased happiness, decreased anxiety and lower rates of depression.
When we’re physically and mentally healthy, we have more energy and can think more clearly. Combined with strategies to manage stress, this can translate to increased personal and professional productivity.
How lifestyle medicine works
Lifestyle medicine is basically an individual partnership with a medical practitioner who coaches and teaches patients toward intentional, mindful lifestyle changes. Changes that, as we’ve hopefully pointed out, can have a profound impact on your overall health, well-being and thus, your quality of life.
The negative impacts of lifestyle on overall health don’t happen all at once, they accrue over years. While lifestyle medicine can have an impact on wellbeing immediately, lasting change doesn’t happen all at once.
The lifestyle changes and the six pillars of health this branch of medicine promotes are simple in concept; anyone could, in theory, take action on them today. Working with a lifestyle medicine is important as they help to ensure that the changes you are making are safe and effective. They’re also a supporter and lifestyle coach, helping you stay the course.
Lifestyle medicine focuses on preventing, treating and reversing chronic diseases through lifestyle interventions.
When implemented through a physician-led and holistic approach, lifestyle medicine can have profound effects on our well-being, including helping us live healthier lives, reducing our dependence on medication, extending our life, enhancing physical fitness, and improving our mental state.
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Mednow is a virtual pharmacy that, in line with lifestyle medicine, takes a holistic approach to overall wellness and patient care. One of our core beliefs is "people before pills;” treating the person, not just the symptoms.
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This article offers general information only and is not intended as medical or other professional advice. A healthcare provider should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While the information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgement of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products, or services is expressly given or implied by Mednow or its affiliates.Get Started