Lifestyle medicine is a branch of medicine focused on preventive healthcare and self-care dealing with research, prevention, and treatment of disorders caused by lifestyle factors and preventable causes of death such as nutrition, physical inactivity, chronic stress and self-destructive behaviors including the consumption of tobacco products and drug or alcohol abuse.
Lifestyle medicine focuses on educating and motivating patients to improve the quality of their lives by changing personal habits and behaviors around the use of 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, alcohol addiction and dependence, drug addiction and dependence, as well as psychosocial factors, e.g. chronic stress and lack of social support and community, contribute to chronic disease.
Chronic disease is the leading cause of death and disability in the U.S Rates of chronic disease have never been higher, with the cost of chronic conditions eating up 86% of all health care dollars spent. Chronic disease is so common that more than half of U.S. adults have at least one condition, accounting for 90% of health care spending.
According to the World Health Organization, 80% of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes and 40% of cancer could be prevented, primarily with improvements to diet and lifestyle.
The U.S. spends at least 18% of its GDP ($3.35 trillion) on health expenditures. If costs continue to rise, by 2050 Medicare and Medicaid alone will account for 20% of the GDP. All projections point to continued rises in chronic disease. If we don’t reverse this trend, we are headed for bankruptcy as a country. The solvency of our nation is at stake.
Lifestyle medicine is an evidence-based approach shown to prevent and treat disease. It treats the underlying cause of disease rather than its symptoms that are too often addressed with ever-increasing quantities of pills and procedures. Because it treats causes and not just symptoms, only through lifestyle medicine can we alter the course of spiraling health care costs.