I was sceptical when I first encountered the concept of ‘Lifestyle Medicine’. I manage a diverse portfolio of patients at our Star Vista clinic with individuals of all ages across various life stages: from infants to students undergoing crucial final exams, from career-oriented individuals to both working and non-working parents, and from patients grappling with chronic diseases to caregivers tending to unwell loved ones. My initial assumption was that prescribing ‘sabbatical leave’ or concentrating solely on lifestyle changes post-retirement was neither realistic nor feasible.
I was mistaken.
What is ‘Lifestyle medicine’?
Lifestyle Medicine goes beyond preventive medicine. It focusses on recognising certain behavioural and environmental patterns that can prevent or contribute to mental and physical health. Lifestyle Medicine uses evidence-based medicine to prevent and reverse chronic diseases before resorting to pharmacological interventions. It can be a dual approach where the Lifestyle Medicine physician adopts both a holistic and health coach approach while also medically monitoring and guiding the patient.
It is well known that many chronic diseases and cancers have a genetic component. It is little known that up to 75% of illnesses are related to lifestyle choices, therefore are modifiable, preventable and reversible. With this in mind, Lifestyle Medicine focusses on the 6 pillars of health:
1. Physical activity
2. Restorative sleep
3. Eating well
4. Stress management
5. Avoidance of risky substances (eg. smoking, alcohol or drugs)
6. Positive social connections
A case-study example
How does this work in real life? Let me provide an example. Imagine a patient with chronic sleep apnea. This person has chronic sleep issues which in turn cause physical and mental fatigue. This limits the ability to exercise, eat well, manage stress and creates stress. This person may resort to the consumption of alcohol and smoking as a way to cope with feeling so fatigued. From a medical perspective, the negative lifestyle habits, if not addressed, can lead to the development of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, fatty liver, back pain, joint pain, other chronic diseases, the can effect mental health and relationships.
The lifestyle physician would work with a multidisciplinary team to address and support the 6 pillars of lifestyle medicine to promote positive lifestyle changes while also addressing the immediate medical needs.
So, while a lifestyle medicine physician is unlikely to prescribe sabbatical leave, be prepared to receive exercise prescriptions!