What is it?
Lifestyle Medicine bridges the gap between health promotion and clinical practice with a multidisciplinary, whole system approach to the chronic disease problem.
Another way to conceptualise Lifestyle Medicine is the intersection of medicine, healthcare and health policy with behavioural, social, environmental, socioeconomic, political and other factors impacting on health and wellbeing.
It has been defined as, “The application of environmental, behavioural, medical and motivational principles to the management (including self care and self-management) of lifestyle-related health problems in a clinical and/or public health setting” (Egger, Binns and Rossner, 2013).
In practical terms, Lifestyle Medicine involves a range of health professionals, researchers and educators working together to prevent, manage and treat conditions that result from physical inactivity, poor diet or nutrition, smoking, alcohol overconsumption, chronic stress, anxiety, poor or inadequate sleep, social isolation, and loss of meaning and purpose, amongst other factors.
In Australia the field has grown under the guidance of us, the Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine (ASLM), while internationally the field has been growing rapidly since around 2004, with numerous societies and colleges around the world.
Why is it needed?
There are numerous determinants of health and well-being, ranging from genetic inheritance, to early childhood development, through to to behavioural. Others are socioeconomic, occupational or environmental, and of these, some may be modifiable, such as poor health literacy, unhealthy work practices, social isolation, or exposure to toxins in our environment.
Then there are a number of largely ‘self-inflicted’ behavioural determinants, such as poor diet and nutrition, physical inactivity, smoking and alcohol overconsumption, which along with other factors like sleep debt and chronic stress, can lead to overweight and obesity, high blood pressure, raised cholesterol, elevated blood sugar, cardiovascular diseases, stroke, Type 2 Diabetes, metabolic syndrome, lung diseases, kidney disease, asthma, arthritis, osteoporosis, dementia, anxiety and depression and some cancers.
Although the combined effect of the four most preventable lifestyle factors (poor diet and nutrition, physical inactivity, smoking and alcohol overconsumption) is well known to account for at least 70% of the total healthcare burden, attempts by government to address the problem have been dwarfed by the scale and velocity of the growth in chronic and lifestyle-related conditions in recent years.
Finally, there are less tangible influences on health, like stress, anxiety, poor or inadequate sleep, lack of connectedness, loss of meaning and purpose, along with numerous environmental influences. These may also be modifiable.
Lifestyle Medicine deals with the root causes of the problem; the modifiable aspects of the whole person (physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual), health behaviours, environment and circumstances, underpinned by enhancing self-empowerment and self-efficacy to manage and improve our own health.