Underprescribed Lifestyle Medicines for a Better, Longer Life

February 9, 2021

They don’t come in pills, but these treatments can eliminate the most common causes of illness.

The majority of Americans are stressed, sleep-deprived, and overweight. As a result, they suffer from largely preventable lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes.

But the treatments for these conditions are simple, enjoyable, and often free—even if they do sometimes require you to go against the grain of common habit.

Being overweight or obese is a problem for the 50 percent of adults who suffer high blood pressure, the 10 percent who suffer diabetes, and the 35 percent with pre-diabetes. Public and personal health care costs from these conditions are unaffordable and growing. About 90 percent of the nearly $4 trillion Americans spend annually for health care in the United States (which includes $1.5 in public money) is for chronic diseases and mental health conditions. But there are new lifestyle “medicines” that are free that doctors could be prescribing for all their patients.

Lifestyle medicine is the clinical application of healthy behaviors to prevent, treat, and reverse disease. More than ever, research underscores that the “pills” today’s physician should be prescribing for patients are the six domains of lifestyle medicine: whole food plant-based eating, regular physical activity, restorative sleep, stress management, addiction reduction or elimination, and positive psychology with social connection.

We are a primary care preventive medicine physician and a computational immunologist, both committed to applying state-of-the-art research to inform the clinical practice of lifestyle medicine. Our findings and recommendations were just published in Frontiers in Medicine. We highlight the key take-home points for each of the areas below.

Whole-Food, Plant-Based Eating

Diets high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and lower in animal products and highly processed foods have been associated with the prevention of many diseases. These diets have been shown to improve health and even reverse common cardiovascular, metabolic, brain, hormonal, kidney, and autoimmune diseases, as well as 35 percent of all cancers.
We believe that future research should include larger trials or new research methods with emphasis on the quality of diet. This would include more data on the micronutrient composition and protein sources of plant versus animal-based foods—not just the proportion of fat, carbohydrates, and protein. Such trials should include children, as many adult disorders are seeded as early as infancy or in utero.

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