Optimizing Your Health with Lifestyle Medicine
Reviewed by Dr. Jonathan Bonnet, MD, MPH
For many healthy adults, connecting with a healthcare provider is a one-off transaction. Whether seeking treatment for an injury or acute illness, plenty of Americans don’t use their provider or wider healthcare network as an ongoing resource for long-term wellness. In fact, 50% of people between the ages of twenty-five and forty don’t have a strong relationship with a primary care physician.
But certain medical and lifestyle approaches can help to improve health and reduce the risk of disease when applied on a regular basis.
Data shows that chronic disease and mental health conditions are the leading causes of death and disability in the United States. Importantly, nearly 80% of all chronic disease is preventable and lifestyle behaviors are responsible for 40% of all premature deaths.
The good news? Lifestyle medicine has been shown to help to reduce the risk of chronic disease and provide an evidence-based, preventive approach to health for the modern adult. But lifestyle medicine can also improve your quality of life—helping you to feel better, function better, and live longer.
What is lifestyle medicine?
Lifestyle medicine is an evidence-based approach to prevent, treat, and reverse disease progression by replacing unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones.
It focuses on several main pillars, including: connectedness, movement, nutrition, stress, sleep and substance use.
What are the pillars of lifestyle medicine?
There are several pillars central to lifestyle medicine, including:
- Connectedness: Building a network of social connectedness and relationships is essential to emotional health and resiliency. In fact, evidence shows that isolation is associated with increased mortality. The connectedness pillar emphasizes building relationships with oneself and others as well as building a practice of mindfulness, meditation, or other spiritual practice to improve mental and overall health.
- Movement: Lack of exercise is one of the leading modifiable risk factors for many chronic diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and breast and colon cancers. But regular movement, including walking, gardening, or strength training, can be maintained on a daily basis throughout life and is an essential component of long-term health.
- Nutrition: What you eat on a daily basis can affect how you feel in the long run. Though the specific parameters of the “best diet” for you may vary from person to person, prioritizing whole, plant-based foods that are rich in fiber and nutrients is a good place to start. Overall, eating more vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds and eating less processed foods can have a beneficial impact on your health.
- Stress: Stress can have adverse effects on our mental health, immune function, and more. But learning how to manage stress can help to prevent these effects.
- Sleep: Consistent, quality sleep is crucial to maintaining good health. Though sleep needs can vary based on individual factors, identifying the right techniques and behaviors to improve your quality of sleep can have a big impact on your health.
- Substance Use: Evidence has linked substance use disorder with a higher risk of morbidity and mortality associated with various medical, mental, and accidental conditions. What’s more, this disorder is often the result of underlying anxiety, stress, depression, or other mental health issues that have not been adequately addressed or treated. By helping patients explore why they are drawn to using those substances, lifestyle medicine aims to help people understand why they use substances and ultimately stop or limit habits like smoking and excessive drinking.
By addressing these pillars, lifestyle medicine works to treat the underlying cause of disease rather than just the symptoms.
How does lifestyle medicine fit in with conventional medicine?
In theory, lifestyle medicine is actually the foundation of conventional medicine. In fact, conventional medicine guidelines for the top lifestyle-related chronic diseases support lifestyle medicine as the first line of treatment, before medications. However, due to time constraints and economic factors, it is not always prioritized during traditional visits. It can (and should) be part of any treatment plan, regardless of condition or current health status.
Formally established in 2004, the discipline and practice of lifestyle medicine were introduced in the landmark 2010 Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) publication of the article, “Physician competencies for prescribing lifestyle medicine.”
Are there ways to measure how well I’m doing?
Efforts to measure your progress will vary depending on several factors, including your baseline and health goals. (When working with a Forfend practitioner, questionnaires used to guide your progress are included as part of the intake experience.)
Ideally, individuals can incorporate lifestyle medicine changes into their daily lives without continued assistance in maintaining these changes. But for many, positive reinforcement can be a powerful motivator.
For example, if lowering your risk of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes is your primary health goal, ask your provider about when to measure your A1C levels, a measure of blood sugar control, after incorporating new nutrition and exercise behaviors.
Or if you’re interested in improving your sleep, ask your provider about what strategies you can take to measure your progress, including different devices and wearables.
Ultimately, the earlier you’re able to incorporate positive changes, the more likely you are to avert various chronic conditions and be able to feel and function at your best.
How can I figure out a plan that works for me?
Finding a lifestyle medicine practitioner that you trust and feel open to working with is the best way to get started on building a personalized lifestyle medicine plan.
If you’re not sure where to look, we can help.
At Forfend, our primary goal is to help patients live healthier, longer lives by taking the guesswork out of prevention.
We connect patients with physicians, health coaches, dieticians, trainers, and more who are passionate about preventive care and lifestyle medicine.
Guided by personalized data, science-backed insights and 1:1 doctor-led guidance, Forfend helps identify early risk factors to make practical, actionable lifestyle changes that matter.