Lifestyle medicine is the clinical application of healthy behaviors to prevent, treat and reverse disease. More than ever, researchunderscoresthatthe “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 and social connection.
We believe that future research should include larger trials or new research methods with emphasis on quality of diet. This would include more data on the micronutrient composition and protein sources of plant versus animal-based foods – not just proportion of fat, carbohydrates and protein. Such trials should include children, as many adult disorders are seeded as early as infancy or in utero.
Regular physical activity
For decades, surgeon generals’ guidelines have emphasized that daily moderate-to-vigorous aerobic physical activity has both immediate and long-term health benefits. For example, why we age and the rate at which we age – chronological age versus biological age – is determined by multiple molecular processes that are directly influenced by physical activity. And now scientists are gaining a better understanding of the cellular and molecular changes that exercise induces to reduce disease risk.
Research priorities for scientists and physicians include obtaining a deeper understanding of the type, intensity and frequency of activity, and better insights into the molecular and cellular alterationsthat occur with exercise.
Sleep helps the cells, organs and entire body to function better. Regular uninterrupted sleep of seven hours per night for adults, eight to 10 hours for teenagers and 10 or more for children is necessary for good health.
Therefore, research into the biological mechanisms that underlie the restorative properties of sleep could lead to environmental or population-based and policy approaches to better align our natural sleep patterns with the demands of daily life.
Maintaining a positive mindset through the practice of gratitude and forgiveness has a significant impact on psychological and subjective well-being, which are, in turn, associated with physical health benefits.
Further study is needed to uncover how an individual’s biology and chemistry change for the better through more social interactions.
Inflammation’s role in lifestyle-related diseases
Unhealthy lifestyle behaviors produce a vicious cycle of inflammation. While inflammation is a healthy, natural way the body fights infections, injury, and stress, too much inflammation actually promotes or exacerbates the diseases described above.
The inflammatory response is complex. We have been using machine learning and computer modeling to understand, predict, treat and reprogram inflammation – to retain the healing elements while minimizing the detrimental more chronic ones. Scientists are unraveling new mechanisms that explain how chronic stress can turn genes on and off.
Overcoming challenges and barriers
We and others who study lifestyle medicine are now discussing how we can leverage all of these approaches to improve clinical studies on the impacts of lifestyle interventions.
At the same time we and our colleagues realize that there are environmental challenges and barriers that prevent many people from embracing these lifestyle fixes.
There are food deserts where healthier foods are not available or affordable. Unsafe neighborhoods, harmful chemicals and substances create constant stress. Poor education, poverty, cultural beliefs and racial and ethnic disparities and discrimination must be addressed for all people and patients to appreciate and embrace the six “pills.”
The application of lifestyle medicines is particularly important now because unhealthy lifestyles have caused a pandemic of preventable chronic diseases that is now exacerbating the COVID-19 pandemic, which disproportionately afflicts those with these conditions.
Ask your doctor to “prescribe” these six “pills” for a longer and better life. After all, they’re free, work better than or as well as medications and have no side effects!
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