Prescription for good health overhead with stethoscope, healthy fresh food and exercise equipment.

(Credit: Milleflore Images/Shutterstock)

When doctors treat for health instead of disease, it’s called lifestyle medicine, and it has become a specialty within the field of medicine.

The American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM) defines lifestyle medicine (LM) as “a medical specialty that uses therapeutic lifestyle interventions as a primary method to treat chronic conditions, including, but not limited to, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and obesity.” Lifestyle medicine clinical providers are trained and practice the application of evidence-based lifestyle changes to treat, heal, and often reverse disease conditions.

Originating in 2004, this relatively new specialty is based on what are called the six pillars of lifestyle medicine: nutrition, physical activity, stress management, restorative sleep, social connection, and avoidance of risky substances. Let’s take a closer look at these pillars:

  1. Whole food, plant-based nutrition

There is copious scientific evidence supporting the use of a predominantly plant-based diet as an important strategy to prevent chronic disease, treat chronic conditions, and even reverse chronic illness. This type of diet is nutrient-dense and rich in fiber. To follow such a diet, choose a variety of minimally processed fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

  1. Physical activity

Consistent, regular physical activity fends off the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle. It is essential for adults to both move their bodies in general activity and purposeful exercise at least weekly as part of overall health.

  1. Stress management

Stress can lead to improved health and productivity, or it can lead to anxiety, depression, obesity, immune dysfunction, and more adverse consequences. Recognizing negative stress responses and identifying coping mechanisms and stress-reduction techniques lead to improved well-being.

  1. Avoidance of risky substances

Use of any form of tobacco and alcohol consumption increases the risk of chronic disease and death. Treatments take time, a variety of approaches, and multiple attempts to eventually achieve success. Patience and support are vital elements to halting risky substance habits.

  1. Restorative sleep

Sleep delays and interruptions cause sluggishness, short attention span, decreased sociability, less deep sleep, fewer calories burned during the day, increased hunger, decreased feelings of fullness, insulin resistance, and impaired performance. Strive for seven or more hours per night.

  1. Social connection

Enriching social connections and relationships powerfully affects our mental, physical, and emotional health. Harnessing the power of relationships and social networks reinforces healing behaviors. The most important predictor of human happiness and long life is having strong social connections (which is why I elaborate further below). Blood pressure and heart rate improve even with brief, upbeat social interactions. The following tips may help you create and nurture important connections in your life:

How to form new social connections

  • A community resource center can provide information about local options for connecting with others.
  • Find community or online groups of those who share the same interests.
  • Join a religious or spiritual group.
  • Help at a local animal shelter to connect with other animal lovers.
  • Local sporting events, music performances, lectures, or art displays are places to meet others with similar interests.
  • Help organize community events by joining a committee.
  • Attend community celebrations like parades or walks.
  • Take courses at a community college.
  • Attend classes or events at your local library.
  • Volunteer – helping others improves the health of the helper, increases happiness, and introduces you to new people.

How to strengthen social connections

  • Try to quickly connect with people you see often during the week.
  • Try to stay positive while connecting with others.
  • Share new experiences.
  • Create ways to spend time with others.
  • Be there for those who need you.
  • Be flexible, supportive, and interested in what others are doing in their lives.

About Dr. Faith Coleman

Dr. Coleman is a graduate of the University of New Mexico School of Medicine and holds a BA in journalism from UNM. She completed her family practice residency at Wm. Beaumont Hospital, Troy and Royal Oak, MI, consistently ranked among the United States Top 100 Hospitals by US News and World Report. Dr. Coleman writes on health, medicine, family, and parenting for online information services and educational materials for health care providers.

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12 Comments

  1. Woody says:

    Face it. The only thing that most of us have to look forward to is death.

  2. Hill Walker says:

    This is a ‘new’ field’? Isn’t it Common Sense. Maybe my friend, a mother who left two young children behind, wouldn’t have died of a overdose after making friends with a heroin addict her last stint in rehab which she had gone to a half dozen times for a painkiller addiction from gastric bypass surgery. She WAS NEVER a good prospect for this surgery as she didn’t have the behavioral controls it would take for a successful outcome. Why wasn’t this the first diagnostic before this surgery was prescribed’.

  3. Sydney Ross Singer says:

    I am a medical anthropologist and pioneer of applied medical anthropology, which addresses the cultural causes of disease. For 30 years I have been fighting the medical industry over simple lifestyle factors that cause disease, including the link between breast pain, cysts, and cancer and the wearing of tight bras. I am the co-author of Dressed to Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras, and have been shocked over the medical corruption and censorship over this issue. I have made many discoveries about the cultural causes of many diseases which may be preventable by changing lifestyle, but the medical industry has resisted. You cannot trust the profit-motivated disease treatment industry to tell you the way to prevent disease.

    One key issue, hidden in the article above, is the requirement that these lifestyle medicine treatments need to be “evidence based”. While that sounds good, it isn’t, since it introduces politics into science. Since nobody makes money on free lifestyle advice (as I can attest), there will be research funding problems. And since lifestyle solutions may point a finger at harmful industries that create harmful products, there will be industry resistance, as well as industry funding of research that shows their products don’t cause harm. This happens time and time again. And drug companies which treat disease, and pay off doctors, will fight against non-drug solutions, and they will pay doctor “experts” to contradict any non-profitable lifestyle research that threatens the use of their treatments.

    The bra-cancer link is a classic example of this. The corruption and denials from the cancer “experts” is astounding. See my article What Breast Cancer Inc. Doesn’t Want You to Know About Breast Cancer. https://www.academia.edu/112861509/What_Breast_Cancer_Inc_Doesnt_Want_You_to_Know_about_Bras

    1. Faith A Coleman MD says:

      You group all doctors together as bought-off by industry. That’s inaccurate and unfair. You’re not helping the problem with your sweeping generalization. What is your motive – to contribute to progress in this important aspect of health and medicine or do you just want to be right? Not all physicians can be bought, and presumably are stupid. There are plenty of physicians who practice with integrity and always with their patients’ best interests in mind. There are others who lack integrity and serve self, as there are in any field of endeavor.

  4. Joe Rogaine says:

    eat lift sleep

  5. Sydney Ross Singer says:

    I would like to add to my comment that, while relying on scientific evidence is a political problem of getting funding, there is a better way to test theories about lifestyle-caused disease. Try it for yourself! I call these “self studies”. What you do is change your lifestyle and see how it affects you. You don’t need a prescription to change lifestyle. For example, women who want to see if their bras are harming their breasts can simply try being bra-free for one month and feel the difference for themselves, on themselves. Want to try getting some foods out of your diet? Just try it and see. Lifestyle research can be free, personal, and effective. You don’t need to wait for conflicted, profit-focused medicine to come up with research, usually done on rats or some other unfortunate animal, to tell you whether or not you should try a lifestyle change.

    For more, see my article How to Be Healthy in a Sick Culture.
    https://www.academia.edu/98637103/How_to_be_Healthy_in_a_Sick_Culture_Read_This_Before_You_See_a_Doctor_for_Anything

    1. Faith A Coleman MD says:

      The StudyFinds article says just that, at the end encouraging readers to practice self care and includes references for information.

  6. shann fisher says:

    As a student in a Doctorate of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, which has the same training as an MD for the first 3 years so that we can work integratively with Western Medicine, and upon licensure I will be a PCP able to do everything but surgery and prescribe opiates, which, we don’t need to do, because we actually know how to use diet, lifestyle and herbs to treat many things without meds (don’t get me wrong–antibiotics (when used properly), vaccines are good things).

  7. Christopher Meyer says:

    N of 1 Studies. Individualized healthcare.

  8. Jon Rowe says:

    “There is copious scientific evidence supporting the use of a predominantly plant-based diet as an important strategy to prevent chronic disease, treat chronic conditions, and even reverse chronic illness. This type of diet is nutrient-dense and rich in fiber. To follow such a diet, choose a variety of minimally processed fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.”

    No. The “copious” evidence is that doing THIS instead of eating processed crap, with drinking excessively and smoking is a good first step.

    A low carb, animal based diet is much more optimal. There is not only plenty of evidence to support such a contention, but the scientists who advocate for such tend to have a much greater understanding of the biomechanics of the human body. That is a much stronger grounding in fields like biology, chemistry, biochemistry, cellular genetics.

    If a “health advocate” doesn’t understand such concepts as ketosis, gluconeogenesis, the Warburg Effect, etc. they aren’t worth listening to. Those who do understand such at the deepest level tend to advocate for low carb, ketogenic diets and they don’t fear foods that come from animals.

  9. MM says:

    Please note that a plant-based diet is not for everyone, and some find that cutting out animal protein (especially fresh, red meat – and not super-lean either) negatively impacts their mental and physical health.
    So yes to all, as long as we realize that different people have different needs, especially when it comes to their diet.

  10. Bob says:

    Do your MEDS:
    Meditation
    Exercise
    Diet
    Sleep, Supplements, Social, Sex