New Medical Specialty Fosters Healthier Lifestyle Choices

The lifestyle medicine discipline offers the potential to strengthen patients' capacities to make healthier choices and foster good health.

As much as patients long for a pill or surgical procedure to fix all health problems, it’s quite obvious that medical interventions can’t fix everything. Healthy lifestyles — including healthy diet, adequate physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, moderate alcohol consumption, and avoiding tobacco —remain the cornerstone of health improvement.

Thus, a new medical discipline called lifestyle medicine has been introduced. Lifestyle medicine uses medical evidence to help individual patients and families adopt and sustain behaviors that improve health and quality of life. Practitioners encourage patients to integrate lifestyle practices into their routines in order to lower their risk of developing chronic disease, though lifestyle medicine can also augment therapy for existing chronic disease. The medical discipline is basic disease prevention and health promotion.

Endocrinologists should applaud the movement, as adopting low-risk lifestyles can decrease blood glucose levels, lower cholesterol, address high blood pressure, reduce weight, and reduce smoking.

In an article in Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Obesity, Robert F. Kushner and Kirsten Webb Sorenson review the new specialty and its potential, as well as provide a concise summary of the best and most critical research findings that support lifestyle interventions. Among their most significant points:

  • Unhealthy behaviors represent a global burden of non-communicable diseases and account for about 63 percent of all deaths.
  • Only 8 percent of Americans adhere to healthy lifestyle behaviors, which include eating at least five fruits and vegetables daily, regularly exercising more than 12 times a month, maintaining a BMI between 18.5 and 29.9 kg/m2, consuming alcohol moderately, and not smoking.
  • Few health care providers provide adequate counseling on lifestyle changes, and counseling itself requires a skill and diplomacy that many providers lack.

Whether it’s practiced as a medical specialty or integrated into other specialties, lifestyle medicine offers the potential to strengthen patients’ capacities to make healthier choices and foster good health.