Lifestyle is medicine


What if lifestyle were medicine? What if we could prevent almost 80% of chronic disease? What if the only thing we had to do was make the choice to eat well and move our bodies every day?

It is. We can. Let’s do it.

There is an overwhelming body of research indicating that most chronic diseases including, many cancers, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, may be prevented through lifestyle interventions. This concept is not new—the body of medical research supporting it goes back decades.

In 1993, The Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) published ‘The Actual Causes of Death’, data from approximately 20 years of research, showing that the prominent causes of death in the United States were the result of disease caused by smoking, poor diet, and lack of physical activity. In 2004, this finding remained the same with smoking, poor diet, and lack of exercise at the top of the list. But, the gap between smoking (18.1% of deaths) and poor diet and/or lack of physical activity  (16.6% of deaths) had narrowed. There’s no denying that disease is an effect of poor lifestyle choices.

JAMA also published a study demonstrating that there is a 78% lower risk of developing chronic disease—type 2 diabetes, heart attack, stroke, and many cancers (at least 13 types)—when we don’t smoke, aren’t overweight (BMI less than 30), eat well (high intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and some meat), and are physically active (3.5 hours/week). A 78% decrease in developing chronic disease through lifestyle—that’s dramatic and an inspiration to be curious about wellness.

Yet, here we are, with more than 37% of American adults and 17% of youth 2-19 years old obese. This translates into over $150 million dollars a year in health care costs. Effectively, we are making ourselves sick through poor nutrition, lack of physical exercise, and smoking.

Let’s avoid seeking medical intervention when we are already ill and be more curious about how we can prevent illness with lifestyle medicine.

How do we do this? Every day, we have so many opportunities to eat well or to eat poorly, to exercise, whether that be going for a walk or taking a spin class, or to not exercise. Instead of reaching for a bag of chips or pretzels, grab an apple, some carrots and hummus or other real food. Go for a walk during lunch break at work, dance around the room, or stream a workout video at home (there are many low cost and free options). Making these changes permanent is certainly not easy, but it’s worth it for yourself and for your family.

We can’t afford to do nothing about our wellness. Lifestyle medicine is the best medicine we can ever create and we already have access to it.