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Understanding Lifestyle Medicine: A Key to optimal health

Updated: Apr 1, 2023

The disease burden reports from the CDC, WHO, and other health organizations have all concluded that all causes of mortality across the globe are due to diseases directly attributed to modifiable lifestyle habits.

In the last 50 years, the mortality and morbidity statistics of these diseases have progressively worsened.

Medical science and practice, as it is presently configured to operate, has not changed the mortality indices from these deadly diseases Cancer, Type 2 Diabetes, Hypertension, consequent heart diseases, degenerative brain disorders, and immune reactive diseases.

We have continually pushed pills and procedures before any consideration for preventing or addressing the fundamental causative factors for these disorders.

There has been a shift in the paradigm of understanding since the National Geographic discovery of super-agers in 5 blue zones and the 2012 Nobel prize-winning science of Epigenetics, and the 2016 Nobel prize-winning science of Autophagy.

All these revelations validate the fact that the human health span can be optimized by changing our current uncontrolled lifestyle habits to a habitual modification of the six pillars of healthy living.

Lifestyle medicine is the new specialty that has taken front-row seats in developed healthcare systems.

Frequently there is a tendency for people to misconceive the distinction between Lifestyle medicine and Holistic medicine or Alternative medicine and Naturopathy etc.

Lifestyle medicine is a branch of mainstream medicine that focuses on using evidence-based prescription of modifying lifestyle factors in preventing, managing, and reversing chronic diseases.

Lifestyle medicine is founded on the idea that our daily habits and behaviors, such as diet, physical activity, stress management, sleep, tobacco and substance use, and social support, play a significant role in our overall health and well-being.

As alluded to earlier, observational studies from the Blue zones and structured prospective studies validate lifestyle's incontrovertible role in chronic disease and aging.

The identified six pillars of lifestyle medicine are factors that scientific evidence show as key to achieving optimal health and longevity.

Addition of these pillars into our daily lives, will prevent and allow us to better manage chronic diseases, as well as improve our quality of life, and live longer healthier lives.

1:Nutritious diet

A nutritious diet is essential for overall health and longevity. It involves consuming a wide variety of whole, predominantly plant-based, unprocessed foods that provide the necessary nutrients our bodies need to function correctly.

These nutrients include carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals from plant-based sources and water. A nutritious diet should hence be rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. It should also be low in processed foods, added sugars, salt, and unhealthy fats.

By following a nutritious diet, we can reduce our risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.

The Nurses' Health Study as well as Adventist Health Study 1 & 2 over 40 years clearly distinguishes the difference in health span patterns of Vegans, Vegetarians, and Omnivores.

2: Physical activity

Physical activity is an essential pillar of lifestyle medicine. It helps to improve our physical and mental health, reduce the risk of chronic diseases, and improve our quality of life.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week, as well as muscle-strengthening activities at least two days per week.

Physical activity can be incorporated into daily life, such as leisure activities, household chores, or structured exercise programs. It is crucial to avoid structured ‘exercises’ that might create unnecessary psychosocial pressure and reduce compliance and self-efficacy.

The advice is to identify activities that are enjoyable and sustainable to ensure consistent engagement.

3:Stress management

Stress is a natural response to challenging situations, but chronic stress can negatively impact our physical and mental health. It can lead to various health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and depression.

Effective stress management is essential for overall health and longevity. Techniques such as mindfulness, which is mostly learning how to control and optimize breathing, as well as other relaxation techniques, and exercise can help us to manage stress and maintain a healthy balance. 

It is essential to find what works best for you and prioritize stress management in your daily routine.

4:Quality sleep

Quality sleep is essential for overall health and well-being. It allows our bodies to repair and regenerate, and it helps to improve our mental and physical performance.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Several factors can impact sleep quality, such as irregular sleep patterns, exposure to artificial light, and the consumption of caffeine and alcohol.

Establishing a consistent sleep schedule and creating a relaxing bedtime routine, as well as maintaining a sleep-friendly environment helps to improve sleep quality.

Of note is that WHO have considered classifying night shift as a potential carcinogen as it disrupts the circadian rhythm and adversely affect healthy living.

5: Limit Tobacco and substance use

Tobacco and substance use can significantly negatively impact our health and longevity.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and disease worldwide, and it increases the risk of a range of health problems, including heart disease, lung cancer, and stroke.

 Substance abuse can lead to addiction and various physical and mental health problems.

Spirit alcohol and its ability to rapidly raise blood ethanol levels with inappropriate mobilization of hepatic alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme has been known to cause debilitating liver diseases for ages.

Quitting tobacco, spirit alcohol intake and substance use can be challenging, but it is worth it for the significant health benefits.

6,Social connections

Evidence suggests that social connections and happiness can positively affect longevity. It is one gray area of medical science that is hardly mentioned, and yet observational studies have validated its significance to healthy living.

Studies have found that people with strong social connections tend to live longer than those who are isolated and have fewer social ties.

This may be because social relationships provide emotional support, which can help people cope with stress and other challenges that may arise. In addition, social relationships can also offer practical assistance, such as help with tasks or transportation, which can improve overall well-being.

Similarly, research has found that people who report higher happiness and positive emotions tend to live longer and have a lower risk of developing certain health conditions, such as heart disease and depression. 

It is thought that happiness may protect health by reducing stress and promoting healthy behaviors, such as regular exercise and a healthy diet.

It is worth noting that the relationship between social connections, happiness, and longevity is complex and may be influenced by various factors, including genetics, lifestyle, and the overall social and cultural environment.

However, maintaining strong social connections and striving for happiness can be essential for general well-being and has been noted to contribute to a longer and healthier life.

Lifestyle Medicine Physicians and Practitioners have been trained in the fundamentals of using the above pillars. Through motivational interviewing and cognitive behavioral modifications, preserve these pillars for patients as therapy or prevention, using evidence-based methodologies.

The Mayor of New York had recently mandated all hospital systems in New York to include lifestyle medicine as the first line of therapeutic intervention in all metabolic syndromes of Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, Hypertension, Dyslipidemia, Cancers, and Neurodegenerative diseases.

Lifestyle Medicine is the next frontier of Medical practice, the new face of Medicine.

The School of Healthy living leverages on this new paradigm to expound the pillars in practical, reproducible and simple ways for the benefits of our students and all interested persons

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