Prescribing Lifestyle Medicine

Whether it’s eating better, drinking less or exercising more, every New Year we resolve to be a bit healthier.

Then every year, along comes Blue Monday – the start of the third week in January when, the theory goes, we feel downcast from the aftermath of festive glut and failed New Year’s resolutions. This year, that fateful day falls on Monday 18th January. But would we even need New Year’s resolutions if healthy habits were already part of our everyday lives?

Enter Lifestyle Medicine.

What Is Lifestyle Medicine?

Lifestyle Medicine is a branch of healthcare where changes to lifestyle habits are prescribed by medical professionals to help treat and reverse diseases. The approach is based on clinical evidence showing that many modern maladies are a product of our lifestyle.1

It gives patients the power to influence their own health and treatment, a fundamental change to the current of healthcare providers but one that’s growing in prominence in mainstream medicine.

What Can Lifestyle Medicine Help With?

Lifestyle medicine is most effective when used to treat long-term conditions, like:

  • Heart disease
  • Certain cancers
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Dementia

These common chronic health issues are estimated to be responsible for over 70% of all deaths globally, but evidence suggests they can be prevented and even reversed through lifestyle choices.23

How Lifestyle Medicine Differs from Standard Healthcare

Lifestyle medicine is a radical departure from the standard approach used by GPs in the NHS. Below we compare a few of the main differences:

Standard Approach: Disease-OrientedLifestyle Medicine Approach: Health-Oriented
* GPs look at the pattern of symptoms presented by a patient

* They aim to diagnose a disease or refer the patient on for further tests

* Pharmaceutical drugs are frequently prescribed or maybe even surgery

* The overall objective is to detect diseases early and prevent them from worsening
* Lifestyle medicine assumes that a patient’s default state is healthy

* Their symptoms have arisen due to one or more systems in their body being out of balance

* Day-to-day habits and behaviours are prescribed

* The overall aim is to reverse or prevent disease altogether

What Happens During a Lifestyle Medicine Appointment?

During a lifestyle medicine appointment, your GP spends the first few minutes trying to build up a picture of a typical day for you. They ask you about things like work-life balance, what you eat and when, and how you sleep. They also take into account your genetic and environmental influences.

You’re then prescribed a research-backed personalised plan based on:

  • Food
  • Movement
  • Sleep
  • Relaxation
  • Environment

Is Lifestyle Medicine the Future of Healthcare?

In 2020 over 550 healthcare professionals, including NHS doctors, took part in a course called Prescribing Lifestyle Medicine. Delivered by Mr Michael Ash, Dr Rangan Chatterjee and Dr Ayan Panja, the online programme was hugely well-received and will this year be made available to a wider audience through a partnership with Practice Unbound.

Despite this, it’s unrealistic to say that Lifestyle Medicine will replace all forms of standardised medical care. Surgery and drugs can be vital and form part of lifesaving interventions in emergency situations when a person needs specialist, immediate attention.

But when it comes to chronic conditions that don’t respond well to the standard disease-oriented approach, Lifestyle Medicine can help us to take control of our health.

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Sources and References

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

  1. https://prescribinglifestylemedicine.org/
  2. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/noncommunicable-diseases
  3. https://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2018/02/01/richard-smith-doctors-and-patients-heading-in-opposite-directions/