What Is Lifestyle Medicine? (video/podcast)

Medical approach aims to prevent, treat, manage chronic illnesses

Medical approach aims to prevent, treat, manage chronic illnesses

Pills, procedures and other medical treatments can be very effective in treating problems from headaches to heart attacks, but some health issues — especially common chronic conditions — may respond well to changes in lifestyle alone. Modifying your diet, activity, sleep, stress level and more all can affect your health. This approach is known as lifestyle medicine.

In this video, San Diego Health host Susan Taylor talks with Kosha Nathwani, MD, a family medicine physician at Scripps Clinic Encinitas, about lifestyle medicine and how it can be helpful in treating and preventing illness.

What is lifestyle medicine?

Lifestyle medicine is a medical specialty in which physicians use comprehensive lifestyle changes to maintain and improve health. It involves a coordinated, team-based approach to health care to treat, reverse and prevent chronic lifestyle-related diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity.

“Therapeutic lifestyle interventions specifically target some of these diseases and reduce the risk of others, such as arthritis,” says Dr. Nathwani. “And the goal is to make meaningful and long-lasting changes.”

A lifestyle medicine team typically includes a lifestyle medicine physician, dieticians, physical therapists and mental health professionals, as well as social workers to help to promote social community connections.

“Although you may not see the results right away, you will notice the benefits of adopting these methods of lifestyle medicine in all aspects of your life, not just in the management of chronic disease,” says Dr. Nathwani.

Six tips for making healthy lifestyle changes

Lifestyle medicine includes evaluating various areas of your life to see where you can make changes to benefit your health. Dr. Nathwani recommends considering the following six lifestyle modifications:

1. Eat a plant-based diet of whole foods

A plant-based diet centers around vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.

In addition to helping you learn about plant-based diets, lifestyle medicine providers guide you through ways incorporate these healthy foods into your daily menus. This may include learning easy, minimal-ingredient recipes, planning and prepping meals, and knowing which ingredients to avoid and substitutions to make while cooking or dining out. Even making small changes, such as using olive oil instead of butter, can have a big impact.

2. Reduce stress

Stressful situations are often out of our control, but how we handle them is not. One of the goals of lifestyle medicine is to better manage stress by changing how we react to challenging situations.

Adopting techniques such as mindfulness, deep breathing, guided imagery, progressive relaxation and others can help you develop techniques to effectively cope with stress.

3. Exercise

Exercise can help control your weight, reduce stress, strengthen your cardiovascular health and improve your mood — all desired outcomes of lifestyle medicine. Aim to get 30 to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise at least five days a week; this may involve walking, running, jogging, playing tennis, swimming or other activities that you enjoy.

Weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, jogging or dancing, also can help strengthen your bones against osteoporosis.

4. Sleep

Poor sleep has been linked to obesity, heart disease and depression. Lifestyle medicine can teach you tips to get more restorative sleep, such as minimizing technological distractions, avoiding caffeine in the afternoon, and creating a healthy sleep environment.

5. Avoid risky behaviors

Lifestyle medicine helps you learn ways to avoid or minimize activities that raise your risk of disease, such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol or misusing prescription pain medications.

6. Make and foster social connections

Research has shown that strong social connections can improve your well-being, encourage healthy behaviors, and even lead to increased longevity. Now that we’re getting back to in-person activities, it may be easier to connect with people who share your interests, such as kids, sports, book clubs or cultural activities.

“Lifestyle medicine can help with many chronic conditions, but it does not work for everything,” says Dr. Nathwani. “It’s important to get your regular check-up and discuss any health concerns with your doctor. If you have an interest in learning more about lifestyle medicine, you can definitely talk to your doctor more about that too.”

Listen to the podcast on the benefits of lifestyle medicine

Listen to the podcast on the benefits of lifestyle medicine

Follow San Diego Health on iTunes for the latest episodes on new medical technologies and wellness tips. We’re also on SoundCloud and Spotify.

Related tags: