A branch of medicine
Lifestyle medicine is a branch of medicine dealing with research, prevention, treatment and reversal of diseases caused by lifestyle factors such as nutrition, physical inactivity, and chronic stress. Lifestyle Medicine focuses on educating and motivating patients to change personal habits and behaviors around the use of a whole food, plant-predominant dietary lifestyle, regular physical activity, restorative sleep, stress management, avoidance of risky substances and positive social connection. In the clinic, major barriers to lifestyle counseling are that physicians feel ill-prepared and are skeptical about their patients’ receptivity.
Poor lifestyle choices like dietary patterns, physical inactivity, tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption, as well as psychosocial factors, e.g. chronic stress and lack of social support and community, contribute to chronic disease.
Lifestyle Medicine in Practice
The evidence that the body will heal itself when the factors that cause disease are removed is clear. Diseases such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes that were once thought to be irreversible have been reversed by lifestyle interventions. Lifestyle interventions require behavior changes that may be challenging for health professionals, communities, and patients. The task of the LM practitioner is to motivate and support healthy behavior changes. Coaching and supporting people how to cook healthy food at home, for example, can be part of a lifestyle-oriented medical practice.
There are many theories of behavior change, the transtheoretical model (TTM) is particularly suited to Lifestyle Medicine. It posits that individuals progress through six stages of change: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, and termination. Stage-matched interventions are most likely to result in successful behavior changes. Lifestyle Medicine practitioners are encouraged to adopt counselling methods such as motivational interviewing (MI) to identify patient readiness to change and provide stage appropriate lifestyle interventions.
Levels of Lifestyle Medicine
LM may be practiced on three levels. The first level involves recognition by all health care professionals that lifestyle choices determine health status and is an important modifier of the response to pharmaceutical or surgical treatments. All practitioners are encouraged to include lifestyle advice along with standard treatment protocols. The second level is specialty care where Lifestyle Medicine interventions are the focus of treatment and pharmaceutical or surgical treatments are an adjunct to be used as necessary. The third level is population/community health programs and policies. Lifestyle intervention advice should be included in public health/preventive medicine guidance and policies for the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases.
Interprofessional Education/Collaboration in Lifestyle Medicine Practice
Healthcare professionals and their future patients would benefit if the basics of Lifestyle Medicine were incorporated into all professional training programs. Formal training and personal experience of evidence-based lifestyle interventions such as plant-based nutrition, stress management, physical activity, sleep management, relationship skills and substance abuse mitigation would transform our healthcare system. Lifestyle Medicine is uniquely suited to interprofessional education where students from two or more health care professions learn together during all or part of their professional training with the objective of cultivating collaborative practice for providing patient-centered care.
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