Physicians who specialize in lifestyle medicine tend to abhor the title. It sounds like a fad diet or yet another wellness industry cult. Yet lifestyle medicine is no joke. A rapidly growing body of doctors across the world is beginning to realize how monumental a shift in attitudes among healthcare professionals could be. They’ve just got to work out how to do it. Lifestyle medicine is a branch of healthcare that attempts to manage illness brought about through lifestyle factors such as poor nutrition, chronic stress, or physical inactivity. We’ve been told often enough that if you eat badly, you can become obese, or develop high cholesterol, or even type 2 diabetes… The list goes on. Yet where things get interesting is the vast range of illnesses that lifestyle medicine can be applied to. How about inflammation, chronic pain, some varieties of mental illness, osteoporosis and even some cancers?
The American College of Lifestyle Medicine claims that 80 percent of healthcare spending is directly tied to the treatment of conditions rooted in lifestyle choices, and more shockingly, that approximately half of all deaths in 1990 could be attributed to lifestyle factors. A quick glance at social media shows 72,000 tags for lifestyle medicine. Many are from doctors, dieticians, or other healthcare professionals, but many more are simply from self-styled ‘experts’ who are using the term to endorse their own brands, such as protein powders, vegan snacks, or essential oils.
So, is there a genuine possibility that lifestyle medicine will be swallowed up by the lucrative ‘lifestyle’ industry? Before we’ve even understood how it works? The concept of lifestyle medicine is fairly simple; look after yourself to avoid getting sick and look after yourself to recover. There will, of course, always be the need for traditional medicine; some diseases are simply too powerful. Yet, for those which are not, it is a welcome relief to know that doctors are there to support us through the lifestyle shifts we know we need to make.