Lifestyle medicine – why you should care

By: Dr Neil Forrest

Osler Health Star Vista
Posted on: 25 Aug 2023

Where we are in medical science

Medical science has made huge advances in treating infectious diseases in the past century. Antibiotics, vaccines and access to clean drinking water mean that although we have not conquered communicable disease, it poses much less risk than in the past.

The great challenge to doctors in the 21st century comes from chronic diseases: diabetes/obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, autoimmune and mental health conditions. Lifestyle choices play a role in all of these conditions, and lifestyle medicine seeks to address these issues to improve the health and wellbeing of individuals and society.

A different approach

Current healthcare approaches do not adequately address chronic diseases. Most people have their condition detected at an advanced stage, and doctors offer expensive medicines and interventions to deal mainly with the complications that arise. But what if we could intervene earlier to prevent or even reverse the disease process and what would this look like?

Lifestyle medicine aims to achieve this by focusing on six pillars:

• Nutritional health
• Mental wellbeing/managing stress
• Social connections and relationships
• Exercise
• Minimising harmful substances (like alcohol or smoking)
• Sleep

It might sound obvious, but with an evidence-informed, scientific approach, these pillars represent powerful tools in our fight against disease. They are much more potent at prolonging lifespan and healthspan (proportion of your life lived without disease/impairment) than any drugs currently available.

Changing the doctor-patient relationship

For this approach to be effective, a doctor needs to move away from their traditional role as an expert who simply imparts information. Years of experience have shown me that simple advice such as “exercise more” or “eat less” is not effective. A lifestyle medicine doctor plays the role of a coach, working in collaboration with their patient to determine their values, goals, motivations and harnessing these to enable lasting behavioural changes.

Does this mean you’re abandoning treatments like drugs and surgery?

Definitely not! Pharmaceuticals still play a key role in the management and prevention of many diseases. Lifestyle medicine recognises this, but aims to maximise optimisation of the ‘six pillars’ alongside other management strategies. We hope that this completely removes the need for medication in most people, but this is not always the case. Lifestyle interventions may prevent you from ever getting cancer for example, but if you were unlucky enough to have the disease, we’d want to use all tools available (drugs, surgery and lifestyle changes), in your treatment. A great example of this is that some cancer therapies are more effective when used alongside certain nutrition interventions.

The lifestyle medicine approach involves a team of allied health professionals and at Osler we work with a trusted network of nutritionists, trainers, psychologists and coaches to get the best results for our patients. For more information, have a look on the links below or come and see us to discover how we can help you take control of your own health and wellbeing!

Dr Neil Forrest is a British GP doctor based in Osler Health Star Vista. To discuss your health and wellbeing needs please make an appointment here

This article was first shared with ANZA magazine July 2023.


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