WHAT IS LIFESTYLE MEDICINE
Lifestyle Medicine is an approach to health which focuses on improving patient health through optimising daily life. The pillars of lifestyle medicine are;
- Physical activity
- Sleep optimisation
- Stress management
- Awareness of the dangers of alcohol and smoking
- Healthy relationships.
We are all on our own individual health journey, and by adopting a healthy lifestyle, we can ensure that we live the best possible life, with maximal health and wellness. As a lifestyle medicine GP, I work within the boundaries of evidence based medicine and combine this with patient-specific factors to create patient-centred bespoke lifestyle programmes to empower, support and improve health. Lifestyle medicine does not replace traditional western medicine, it simply enhances and compliments it!
CURRENT HEALTH CRISIS
We are not designed for modern living, with physical inactivity and the consumption of energy-dense foods resulting in a global obesity epidemic (WHO 2011). Many people today fail to meet recommended exercise targets (Evens et al 2008) with a steady increase in the prevalence of obesity (WHO 2011) and type 2 diabetes (Greaves et al 2011) over the past 20 years. Alarmingly, Physical inactivity and obesity are recognised as some of the leading causes of global mortality (WHO 2011).
Reassuringly, these issues are modifiable and preventable through the adoption of a healthy lifestyle. By incorporating lifestyle medicine approaches, patients can see and feel the improvements in their health. There are endless benefits to adopting a healthy lifestyle for all of us. For instance, patients who have a condition known as ‘pre-diabetes’* can reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by by 50% if they can manage to lose 5% of their bodyweight.
*pre diabetes is a condition where your body is beginning to have difficulties with how it manages sugar, and if not addressed, can progress to established type 2 diabetes.
MY PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE
As a GP, I see patients with a wide variety of health issues. Many of these are the result of their genetic make-up, including asthma, type 1 diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease. I also see a wide range of patients who present with lifestyle related illnesses, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and irritable bowel syndrome. These are known as non- communicable diseases, and are strongly linked to lifestyle factors, such as physical inactivity, unhealthy diets, smoking and excessive alcohol intake. These can often be managed by optimising patient lifestyles, with or without the use of medication.
From my experience, patients often take medication for these problems without addressing their underlying lifestyle factors. Patients are often mislead, frustrated and desperate for help. There are many stresses on the NHS and with time restrictions and limited patient contact opportunities, we can struggle to promote lifestyle changes effectively with our patients. Many doctors feel that they are ill-equipped to promote lifestyle improvement due to a variety of factors, with the prescription of medications often reported as a more attractive and effective option than promoting lifestyle changes for patients with lifestyle- related illnesses (Avery et al 2016).
Through the development of lifestyle medicine programmes, we can help to educate, involve and inspire patients to make lasting and sustainable lifestyle improvements. I have had the pleasure of helping patients to lose weight, manage their type 2 diabetes and improve their overall health and wellbeing through my GP work. These programmes focus on identifying where patients can improve on their individual lifestyle medicine pillars and begin to improve their own health journey.
We are living in a world of updates, blue ticks and social media hashtag-ing. The world now moves at a fast pace and through the evolution of modern living, we are working and living in unfavourable conditions for health. What has not changed is our underling make- up…what makes us human. We are essentially a bunch of DNA, cells and underlying complex interactions which work all day, every day. There are no updates, no software enhancements or model replacements available. Through the development of lifestyle medicine, we can bring our health and wellness back to basics. By prioritising the main pillars of lifestyle medicine, we can ensure that we are being kind to our mind and body, and allowing them to work as they have been designed to! I have developed my own lifestyle matrix, which I use as a reminder to ensure that I have consistency in my own lifestyle journey.
My hope is that the lifestyle medicine movement continues to grow and expand, giving both healthcare professionals and patietns more holistic options to combat lifestyle-related illnesses. My hope is that we all begin to be more kind to their mind and body, in order to allow them to do what they are designed to do. My hope is that I am no longer needed to help patients to overcome their preventable illnesses, as they will already be inspired, educated and supported to do this with safe and evidence-based advice.
MY 5 TOP TIPS FOR HEALTH
Always KEEP HYDRATED. By keeping hydrated, you are ensuring that every cell in your body can work to its capacity.
MOVE every day. Try to limit physical inactivity through making daily choices to move more.
SLEEP quality. Aim to get enough sleep each night so that you wake up refreshed and ready for the day ahead. Did you know that smartphones now have night-mode backlight filters?
Focus on NUTRIENT DENSE FOODS. Aim to eat food which is minimally processed, locally sourced and in season.
EXERCISE FOR HEALTH BENEFITS, not for weight loss. Exercise is a key factor in optimising heath, and is something to enjoy rather than suffer!
Avery L , Charman S, Taylor L, et al (2016) Systematic development of a theoryinformed multifaceted behavioural intervention to increase physical activity of adults with type 2 diabetes in routine primary care: Movement as Medicine for Type 2 Diabetes Implementation Science (2016) 11:99
Greaves C, Sheppard K, Abraham C, et al (2011) Systematic review of reviews of intervention components associated with increased effectiveness in dietary and physical activity interventions. BMC Public Health 2011, 11:119
World Health Organization. Obesity. 2011. www.euro.who.int/en/what-we-do/health-topics/noncommunicable-diseases/obesity