A healthy lifestyle can help you live longer — and better. But what exactly is a healthy lifestyle? Does it mean the same thing for everyone? How do the choices you make every day affect your health now and for years to come?
A new medical specialty called lifestyle medicine can help you answer these questions and make the changes needed to improve your health, manage or eliminate chronic conditions, reduce the need for medications and live your healthiest life.
Lifestyle medicine physicians and experts can show you how it’s possible to treat, prevent, and often reverse many diseases and health problems with personalized lifestyle changes. They don’t just tell you to lose weight, get more sleep or be more active. They work with you to make prescribed changes part of your life, and provide coaching and support to keep you motivated and strong.
“Many people don’t fully realize the power of their choices,” says Catherine Collings, MD, a cardiologist who is now leading the lifestyle medicine program at El Camino Health. “Your choices can often be more powerful than genetics or other risk factors in determining not only how long you might live but how you feel every day. When you understand this and start to successfully create new habits, you start to be able to imagine a life with less dependence on medication, with more energy and more control of any chronic conditions you might already have. And with many of us paying a larger percentage of our healthcare costs than in years past, realizing your own role in improving your health can be freeing instead of feeling like more responsibility.”
Overcoming Misinformation with Science
With today’s communications technology and culture, it seems we’re all being bombarded with information — and misinformation — from every direction. With celebrities endorsing fad diets and meal plans, the internet at our fingertips and talk shows featuring celebrity doctors who make millions off of sponsorships and self-help books, how can you know what is true and what is right for you?
With lifestyle medicine, you don’t have to wonder. The recommendations and coaching approach are based on scientific research and data, and have been proven successful. There are no gimmicks or expensive products to buy. And you’ll have specific steps that are prescribed just for your needs, environment and life. So you’ll finally have a path to success that is charted just for you.
Lifestyle medicine has been shown to help prevent, manage and often reverse many common chronic conditions that can be life-threatening, including:
- Type II diabetes.
- Prediabetes and metabolic syndrome.
- Heart disease.
- High blood pressure.
- High cholesterol.
- Unhealthy weight.
- Fatty liver.
A Foundation to Build On
The six pillars of lifestyle medicine, identified and honed through years of research and application, include:
- Healthful eating of whole, plant-based foods and lean protein.
- Increasing physical activity.
- Improving sleep.
- Forming and maintaining relationships.
- Managing stress with healthy coping strategies.
- Cessation of tobacco use and other unhealthy habits.
“We build on this foundation to create a clinically managed personalized plan for each patient,” Dr. Collings explains. “It starts with a consultation and assessment with me, as well as a session with our lifestyle medicine coach. You don’t need to change primary care physicians, as this program can work with what you’re doing now, including medication or other measures your doctor has prescribed.”
Your assessment and initial coaching session will lead you to one of two tracks: the Individualized Advanced Lifestyle Medicine Program or the group-based Complete Health Improvement Program (CHIP). Both programs are several weeks long and provide support and tools to help you succeed, from biometrics and progress tracking to coaching and cooking demonstrations. You’ll have all the pieces you need to make life better choices every day and create lasting change.
The Bigger Picture
Lifestyle medicine is about individual choices, but it may also help shape medical education and practice in years to come. The American College of Lifestyle Medicine (Dr. Collings is president-elect) is already offering curriculum for physicians and other healthcare professionals, and aims to make the lifestyle medicine approach part of medical education for all physicians.
“Most doctors received training that focused on diagnosing medical conditions and prescribing interventions, such as medication and surgery, to manage or treat diseases and injuries or to reduce symptoms and complications,” says Dr. Collings. “That’s all critical — but we need an increased focus on lifestyle and helping patients to actually live a healthier life. Not only could we reduce suffering and extend years of life without disability, we could help reduce the financial burden healthcare is placing on us all and on future generations. We’re trying to create a new mindset and put the ‘health’ back into healthcare where it’s desperately needed. I’m proud to be leading this initiative for El Camino Health, and I’ve got a new sense of optimism. I know I can help my patients through lifestyle medicine, and I feel we’re laying some very important groundwork that could greatly benefit future generations. We’re just getting started — and we’re already making a difference in thousands of lives.”
This article first appeared in the October 2019 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.