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Medicine for Your Lifestyle

Check out this article we found by Micheal Parkinson, Senior Medical Director of UPMC Health Plan.

Significant and growing scientific evidence shows that the primary determinant of health or disease is not genetics, but rather lifestyle. Heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer and a variety of other chronic diseases are not only preventable with healthier behaviors - but can be better managed and even reversed - through lifestyle improvements.

In recognition of the connection between lifestyle and health, a relatively new style of treatment - known as lifestyle medicine - is increasingly being seen as an alternative to traditional treatments used on chronic diseases.

To address the root cause of disease, disability, and premature death requires a new paradigm which "de-medicalizes" health. The cornerstones of good health and living a long, and productive life are determined largely by what we eat, how we move, and how we think.

Doctors are now beginning to get serious about helping patients address the root causes of disease - not just treating conditions with pills, tests, and procedures.

Lifestyle medicine can be defined as the use of lifestyle interventions in the treatment, management and reversal of disease. Lifestyle interventions, "prescribed" and supported by a health care provider typically consist of:

  • Forks: Incorporating more whole, plant-based foods into our diet. Reducing or completely eliminating refined and highly processed foods, meat and dairy products.
  • Feet: Increasing daily physical activity to at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity such as brisk walking.
  • Fingers: Eliminating cigarettes or excess alcohol intake.
  • Sleep: Ensuring we obtain adequate deep sleep every night.
  • Stress: Developing healthy coping mechanisms like exercise, meditation or mindfulness for life's inevitable challenges.
  • Love: Having and developing a commitment to a purpose, person, or interest which gives meaning to our lives.

Scientific evidence shows that lifestyle interventions can be effective in treating chronic disease, and be equally (and often even more) effective than medication. Lifestyle interventions also have the benefit of not having as many risks of unwanted side-effects.

Another benefit is the cost. In many cases, there is none, except choices, time, and effort.

Lifestyle medicine does not discourage all medications, however. For instance, when medication can aid in promoting a healthy lifestyle - such as using "the patch" to help quit smoking - it is often recommended. But, the overall basic tenet of lifestyle medicine is that treating chronic conditions with medication merely treats the symptoms and, therefore, results in poor outcomes and higher healthcare costs. Lifestyle medicine addresses the root cause of the condition, rather than ignoring it.

Lifestyle medicine can both be effective in helping to prevent, and also helping to treat most chronic diseases. Many diseases affecting multiple organs - like heart disease, kidney disease, hypertension, diabetes, majority of cancers, dementia and other conditions - are due to modern-day processed food diets which are high in added salt, sugars and fats but low in nutrients and microvitamins. The result can be underlying inflammation which can promote multiple common chronic diseases.

Frankly, we cannot afford to "medicalize" environmentally- and behaviorally-caused disease with more treatments, tests and procedures. Doctors, frustrated often by lack of progress in treating and reversing disease are beginning to explore this new approach based on sound science.