Medicine is undergoing a renaissance. Landmark discoveries in genetic science are fundamentally changing our understanding of genes and gene expression, requiring doctors to rethink the way they treat their patients. Add that to recent studies showing many statin medications may cause side effects and the old model of “one drug for one disease” no longer looks like the best approach to medical care.
We are coming to realize more and more that how we live our lives has a profound effect on how healthy we can be. “Lifestyle medicine” is a preventative approach to staying healthy. Simply put, if you live a healthy lifestyle, you will turn on healthy genes. Live an unhealthy lifestyle and you will likely turn on genes that lead to chronic disease.
While sometimes that means conventional treatments such as medications and surgery, their approach is to help patients find the lifestyle that will lead to maximum wellness.
What is a lifestyle medicine?
Because the way you live your life is the cornerstone of how healthy you can be, the lifestyle choices you make every day are vital. French fries, carbonated sodas and milk shakes do not lead to good health. When you make choices that enhance your health, you can achieve a full, healthy life.
In a country where health care costs continue to skyrocket, our national investment in preventative medicine is less than 10 percent of that spending. Since most chronic diseases can be attributed to unhealthy lifestyle habits (for example, 91 percent of incidents of type 2 diabetes are caused by unhealthy habits and behaviors), overlooking preventative care is both costly and dangerous.
Steps to living a healthy lifestyle:
A healthy lifestyle starts with the knowledge to make informed decisions that impact your health every day. Consult with your doctor to understand the current state of your health.
- Are your cholesterol, glucose or white blood pressure too high?
- Do you have a history of chronic disease in your family?
Receiving simple blood tests, a comprehensive physical exam and discussing your medical history with your doctor are among the easiest steps to evaluate the current state of your health. Armed with this information, you and your doctor, nutritionist or trainer can establish goals and focus on making healthier decisions.
2. Balanced eating
Balanced eating habits have a direct influence on excess insulin production, body composition and disease prevention. If your meals primarily consist of carbohydrates, you could be missing our on essential nutrients found in fruits, vegetables and protein. If you have issues with portion control, then incorporating protein into each meal and chewing your food fully before eating another bite can help you develop a healthy appetite. Balanced eating can also mean planning your snacks ahead of time instead taking a quick detour through a drive-thru line.
3. Regular activity and exercise
A regular program of aerobic, strength training and flexibility exercises has been shown to reverse insulin resistance, increase vitality and reduce the risk of disease by turning on your healthy genes. Start off small with regular walks during your lunchtime or take a morning coffee break to walk to the nearby café. Easing yourself into a routine means you are more likely to stick to your new regime. You can work your way up to a regular gym membership or personal training, if you’re feeling ambitious. Taking a moment to walk around the office or stand while working are also simple steps to increase your activity level and get your blood flowing throughout the day.
4. Appropriate nutritional supplementation
Incorporating a foundational nutritional program with targeted nutrients that help to prevent and/or treat specific conditions is an essential part of a living a healthy lifestyle. Depending on what your body is missing, it may be necessary to include specific supplements to keep your body functioning at peak levels. Based on your doctor’s recommendations, you can ease into a regime of supplements, vitamins and minerals to help maintain or increase your level of energy throughout the day. A nutritionist can work with you to develop a customized eating program specific to preferences and nutritional needs.
5. Stress management
Regular stress management programs have also been scientifically shown to improve health by turning on healthy genes. They help keep insulin and other hormone levels balanced, improving vitality. Stress management begins with recognizing when you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed. Many of us spend most of our workdays balancing four tasks at once and although we remain calm, stress can take a physical toll on the body. Making a conscious effort to take a few moments to breathe, relax and regroup can reduce the effect stress has on your health.
Sleep is crucial for the proper functioning of the mind and body. Quality and depth of sleep is of primary importance. Although the amount of sleep individuals need varies, most people should get between seven to eight and a half hours per night. Ensuring you receive the proper amount of sleep helps prevent weight gain, supports your immune system in fighting off sickness and disease, increases your energy level and leaves you more alert and better equipped to react to situations.
Taking these initial steps to live a healthy lifestyle may help delay the onset of illness in old age and increase your years of good health and full function.