What is Lifestyle Medicine?

Every year on New Year’s Day, gyms are flooded with new, eager members who have resolved to make healthy changes in their lives during the upcoming year. As the weeks pass, those gyms begin to clear out again once those new members slowly lose motivation and focus.

While most people have good intentions when making healthy lifestyle changes, they often find themselves falling off the wagon once they realize that they need guidance and support on their health journey. They may think to themselves:

  • “What kind of exercises should I be doing anyway?”
  • “What foods should I be eating or avoiding?”
  • “Why am I not seeing any noticeable improvements in my health?”

We have all faced these questions and found that there are too many contradicting answers. Add to that that change is incredibly hard- our bodies and minds resisting the shift from our comfortable routines. It’s all so confusing!

Now imagine that during your next doctor’s appointment, your practitioner provides you with a roadmap to wellness. A customized blueprint based on your unique symptoms, lab reports, environment, lifestyle, and health goals. This incredible process is called lifestyle medicine, and it exists to help prevent chronic illness, and give you the tools to care for your body, mind and spirit to achieve lasting health and longevity.

Family running to stay healthy - Lifestyle
Family running to stay healthy – Lifestyle

Lifestyle medicine practitioners will assess your eating habits, activity level, sleep patterns, relationships, living environment, and stress levels to develop a personalized treatment plan in a holistic approach to achieving optimal health and wellness.  

Whole Foods Diet

In lifestyle medicine, food is considered to be medicine. Each meal you eat can help heal your body or contribute to inflammation and tissue breakdown. A lifestyle medicine clinician will help you develop a more plant approach to health by helping you add more variety to your diet in a way that is balanced and conducive to good health and healing. Some of these foods may include:

  • Dark, leafy greens
  • Rainbow of fruit colors 
  • Probiotic-rich foods such as keifer, sauerkraut, kombucha and yogurt
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes
  • Healthy fats such as avocado, nuts, seeds 

While incorporating more nutrient-dense foods into your diet, it is important to decrease or remove foods that are responsible for poor gut health and inflammation. These foods, which are linked to chronic illness, include:

  • Refined sugar
  • Alcohol
  • Processed foods
  • Trans fats
  • Emulsifiers and food additives
  • Refined grains
  • Red and processed meats
Family Having a Healthy Meal - Lifestyle
Family Having a Healthy Meal – Lifestyle

Your diet is important because it not only contributes to your physical health, but your emotional wellness too. Lifestyle medicine prioritizes something called the gut-brain axis, which is the critical connection between your gut health and your emotional wellbeing. Studies have shown that poor gut health is heavily related to mood disorders including anxiety, depression, and even premature memory loss. Optimizing the gut flora through a healthy diet, physical activity, and stress management have proven to be integral elements of treating a variety of mood disorders and health conditions.

Activity Level

You don’t have to spend 2 hours in the gym every morning to achieve good health. A strict or rigid workout routine may work for some, but they are incredibly difficult to stick with for others. They can often negatively impact your relationship with physical activity if you’re not enjoying them! It’s crucial to provide your body with ample opportunities to move throughout the day while engaging in activities you enjoy. Some great ways to incorporate movement into your day include:

  • Gardening
  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Biking
  • Dancing 

Any activity that can get you up and moving for about 30 minutes each day will significantly improve your long-term health. The key is to find something that you will look forward to doing every day, whether it’s dancing in the kitchen while waiting for dinner to cook, walking around the block with a friend or loved one, or even playing out in the backyard with the kids. Movement is medicine, and giving yourself the opportunity to move will do wonders for your physical and emotional health.

Stress Management

Stress is also known as the silent killer. Not only does it wreak havoc on our emotional health, but it can also be a precursor to inflammation, chronic disease, obesity, and even immune system dysfunction. Our bodies are incredibly resilient when it comes to dealing with acute stressors. However, when we are exposed to chronic stressors, our bodies never have the opportunity to switch from fight-or-flight mode to rest-and-digest mode. This creates a destructive snowball effect that can impact nearly every system in the body.

To combat the effects of chronic stress, it is crucial to implement stress management practices into your daily life. The first step is to remove yourself from chronically stressful environments as often as possible. Play an active role in your health and ensure that you are spending time with people and in places that make you feel safe, secure, and calm, rather than constantly exposing yourself to stress. This is usually easier said than done, but it is an important element in achieving optimal health.

In addition to making lifestyle adjustments to reduce daily stressors, here are some great ways to process and manage stress:

  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Establish Boundaries: Learn how to say “no” when you do not have the capacity for something
  • Avoid watching or reading the news every day
  • Practice gratitude
  • Learn how to properly express your emotions rather than bottling them up
  • Shake it off by dancing, walking, or finding other ways to move your body
  • Connect with friends and family
  • Laugh
  • Take some time every day to do something that you enjoy
Woman Working Out in Nature - Lifestyle
Woman Working Out in Nature – Lifestyle

Over the years, lifestyle medicine has gained popularity as more and more people become interested in healing diseases and optimizing their health. Rather than masking symptoms or focusing on just one or two illnesses or diseases, lifestyle medicine provides patients with the tools, knowledge, and resources they need to dig into the underlying causes of their ailments, and how to effectively manage, and sometimes even cure, their conditions. 

Personal Relationships

Humans are naturally social creatures, and investing in our relationships is critical to health. Seeking connection with like-minded individuals and cultivating healthy relationships is a lesser-known key element to overall wellness. Social connections help us maintain emotional resilience, boosts our mood, and helps us maintain a sense of love and belonging. Isolating yourself or neglecting personal relationships can have a detrimental effect on your health.

Are You Looking to Improve Your Health?

Do you want to work with a lifestyle medicine specialist? 

Look no further than Planted Forward. We offer Family Medicine, Gastroenterology, and Cardiology services, all provided by trained integrative physicians. We also have registered dietitians and health coaching services to further support your health. 

Do you need help managing your gastrointestinal symptoms? Or are you simply looking to be as healthy as possible? I’m here to help! If you want to maximize your gut health, you can purchase Doctor Méndez Introduction to Gut Health here or book an appointment with me today to get the support you deserve. 

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