Reprint of my article as printed in Inside Medicine magazine August 2018 edition.
The old expression–”there is nothing new under the sun”— may indeed be true. But, old ideas sometimes can be explained in a new way.
Many people are already aware that their habits can affect their health. The news is full of “don’t eat this,” or a new study on exercise. And, yet, we as a nation appear to be getting sicker. It is difficult for doctors to discuss health given our current illness-based insurance model. With genuinely caring physicians having such limited time with each patient, the recommendation for a one-size-fits-all diet and exercise approach is often the norm.
Fortunately, out of established research a new branch of medicine has emerged with the focus on helping people improve their health and prevent chronic diseases. Based on improving six areas of health, Lifestyle Medicine uses many non-drug modalities to treat, improve, and sometimes even reverse chronic health conditions. Medication, while still used, becomes the supplement to these lifestyle changes.
These six areas are:
- Nutrition—getting vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber, phytonutrients, etc., from a predominately whole-food, plant-based diet
- Movement—consistent daily movement that works all the muscles, including the heart
- Sleep—improving the quality of rest
- Substance use—eliminating the use of tobacco and other potentially harmful substances
- Relationships—establishing and nurturing supportive social connections
- Stress management—leading to improved health and productivity
Why focus on so many things? In addition to the fact that individually each of these areas can produce health issues (e.g., tobacco and cancer), they also can affect each other. Improved sleep may assist in weight loss. Moving may reduce stress. And, if you don’t fuel your body with a good quality diet, it’s little wonder you don’t feel like getting off the couch.
Would you like to feel better about your health? The process starts by deciding what your goal is and perhaps even writing it down. Maybe you would like to run a 5K or simply be able to play on the floor with your grandchildren. Next is to identify areas you are willing to change. Maybe the coffee creamer will not be eliminated, but you will eat an extra serving of a green vegetable each day. An earlier bedtime is not feasible, but you are willing to encourage deeper sleep by turning off your phone and leaving it in the kitchen overnight. Successes are celebrated and failures are put to good use as you learnto analyze, re-adjust, and overcome.
So, while the message is not new—your mother may have told you to eat your vegetables and get plenty of sleep—life has a way of intervening and sending us down another path. Now is the time to learn how to manage that stress, get some quality rest, develop a strong emotional support system, avoid substance use, and become active while being mindful of your food choices. It may just be exactly what the doctor ordered!
Elizabeth McCleskey, DO Board Certified Family and Lifestyle Medicine; Member, American College of Lifestyle Medicine; HealthStylesDr.com