This weekend, I was asked to attend a health fair as a physician to provide individual health counselling. The event took place in an absolutely beautiful location and was catered towards the South Asian Population. Along with me, many other allied health-care professionals and physicians were also present. After having the pleasure and opportunity to speak with numerous individuals and colleagues, my assessment was:
1) People want to be empowered to improve their own health, they just need to know how
2) There is a great need for Lifestyle Medicine
2) There is a definite misunderstanding about what is lifestyle medicine is
3) We can reduce the burden of chronic disease by working together
This gave me a bittersweet feeling, I was ecstatic to see how much lifestyle medicine was needed and how lacking this approach to medicine was in our health-care system currently. I was exciting that I would be able to bridge that gap. But at the same time, I was a little taken back by how minimal the understanding was for what lifestyle medicine entails. As I kept on reflecting on this, I realized that ever since I started my own health journey 18 months ago, I have been repeatedly asked the same questions by my doctor colleagues, friends, family and the public.
1) What is it that you do now?
2) What does that mean?
3) Does it mean you are now a naturopath?
4) Are you a psychotherapist?
5) Are you a nutritionist?
6) Why are you doing this? A single person cannot change people and we need doctors to help the sick.
7) Oh so you don’t eat tasty food now because you are on a healthy eating trend.
8) Does it mean you don’t believe in Traditional medicine anymore?
9) Are you trying to live to a 100!
I am sure I have had many more questions posed to me but what this made me realize is that I need to answer these questions to bring clarity to what I am now so passionate about.
My clinic is called Mindful Medicine. This means the practice of bringing awareness to the patient in a non-judgemental way. Allowing the patient to understand where they are now in their own health and how we can use both traditional and lifestyle medicine to improve their health.
What is Lifestyle Medicine?
The term Lifestyle Medicine was first used in 1989! The American College Of Lifestyle Medicine’s definition is:
Use of lifestyle interventions in the treatment and management of disease.
And my personal definition of lifestyle medicine is:
Evidence based practice of using lifestyle interventions to treat, prevent, manage and may be even reverse some lifestyle diseases.
This association between Lifestyle and pathogenesis of chronic disease has been known for more than 3 decades!
What are these Lifestyle interventions which have been scientifically studied and proven to make a difference to health?
Reducing consumption of excessive alcohol
Improvement in diet
Increase in physical activity
Learning coping skills for stress management.
BUT how can we implement this?
There are many reasons why lifestyle medicine may not be the right approach for a particular patient at a particular time, I acknowledge that. However lifestyle medicine IS evidence based medical care – it is the cutting edge of conventional medicine. Patients who require acute or chronic ‘tradition’ medical care should be able to receive it when they need it! The Lifestyle approach of medical is to have the long-term solution outlook on good health and disease prevention.
Having practiced medicine now for 30+ years, I have learnt a lot, including the importance of vaccination, dialysis, heart surgery as well as the discovery of many other surgical procedures, the discovery of antibiotics and many more amazing medical innovations. This is part of the reason why our lifespan has increased. There are other reasons too, like sanitation and clean, safe drinking water. We now live longer lives but not necessarily healthier lives. I recall many of my senior patients saying to me “Doc, I don’t know what they mean by The Golden Years because all I seem to do is go from doctor’s appointment to doctor’s appointment!”
That same experience of 30+ years has taught me the value of adding lifestyle interventions into a patient’s medical treatment prescription. I have a family history of chronic diseases, whether it be genetic or genetic and lifestyle. What I do know for certain is that I don’t want to live a long life with chronic diseases. I want to live a life full of energy and purpose and yes, if I live to a 100, I want it to be a happy and healthy life! I want to be able to run around and play with my grandchildren and have as much energy as they have! I knew I could only do this if I changed my behaviour and incorporated lifestyle interventions into my daily living. It has helped me on my journey to better health and I hope to teach my patients how to take that same journey with me.
These lifestyle interventions present a new and challenging approach to addressing the chronic disease pandemic that we have globally.
It requires a team approach.
It requires working in a partnership with the patient to educate, empower, counsel, motivate, hold accountable, help with road blocks and most of all to support them in implementing the behaviour changes necessary to maintain a healthy life.
Living a healthy lifestyle does not have to be boring, it does not mean you don’t celebrate with cake or eat out with friends. It just means being more aware of the way you live day to day. Your lifestyle has to be something that is sustainable and can only happen if it is doable and enjoyable.
I am hoping this blog has answered many of the questions I have been asked and also opened up your mind to another way to look at your health.
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”