The best medicine of all is teaching people how not to need it. -Hippocrates
This past week I had an amazing opportunity to attend the American College of Lifestyle Medicine's annual conference in Tucson, Arizona. It was a tough job, but somebody had to enjoy this beautiful place! :)
The speakers and attendees were an inspiring group of folks who are doing awesome things in the field of lifestyle medicine.
You might be wondering, What exactly is lifestyle medicine?
Lifestyle medicine is all about preventing and reversing disease through lifestyle changes. Since about 80% of chronic disease is the result of lifestyle choices, the goal of lifestyle medicine is to get people off of their medications by addressing the root cause of many illnesses (lifestyle), and to help them to successfully implement a healthier way of living. The focus is on education and behavioral change.
When people successfully implement healthy lifestyle changes, the results are astounding. So many studies have shown healthy lifestyle changes to be superior to drugs and procedures, which can be costly and have side effects and complications.
I learned so much from the conference, but if I were to choose three main points to share with you all, it would be these:
1. Do not underestimate the power of plant-based whole foods.
Research study after research study has shown how these nutrient-dense foods help our bodies to naturally prevent and reverse disease.
To quote Hippocrates once more:
Let food be thy medicine.
For optimal health, it's important to ensure that the majority of foods consumed are plants -- vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts (in moderation, due to their high fat content).
Additionally, the majority of our food should be as close to its natural form as possible (not highly-processed).
A note on meat. I think it's important to mention that the World Health Organization (WHO) categorizes processed meat as "carcinogenic to humans (Group 1)." (Group 1 is the same classification as tobacco and asbestos.) WHO classifies red meat as "probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A)." For more information on this, check out this article.
Most Americans consume way too much meat. In the healthiest cultures of the world (known as "blue zones"), very little meat is consumed, if any. In these cultures meat is used more as a flavoring than an entrée.
A note on dairy. As we know, calcium is important for bone health. We tend to think of milk when we think of calcium. Keep in mind that dairy can also contain saturated fat and cholesterol (if not skim milk), animal growth factors, drugs and contaminants.
Interestingly, studies have shown that those who got their calcium from plant sources had fewer fractures than those who got their calcium from dairy sources. For more information on this, check out this article.
BOTTOM LINE: Focus on the plants. They will give you the biggest bang for your buck health-wise.
2. We're not just talking about prevention here.
We're talking reversal of diseases that many people assume they are "stuck with" for life -- conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, coronary artery disease, and obesity.
At the conference I learned of study after study where lifestyle changes (healthy diet, regular activity, sufficient rest, etc.) reversed chronic disease. In other words, glucose levels, blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight decreased substantially. Plaque in the arteries shrank! Patients were able to come off their medications for good!
BOTTOM LINE: If you have a chronic health condition such as those listed above, you are not necessarily stuck with it for life. If you are willing to get serious about healthy lifestyle changes, your condition could be significantly improved, and possibly even cured!
3. The changes occur faster than you might think.
We're not talking years to see improvements -- we're talking weeks when patients are highly motivated to make changes. For example, in intensive residential programs where patients undergo healthy lifestyle changes, many patients significantly decrease or stop their medications within one week!
A word of caution. If you have chronic medical conditions and plan to make serious lifestyle changes, stay in close contact with your doctor. Monitor blood pressure and glucose closely. It is likely that your medications for diabetes and blood pressure in particular will need to be lowered. The last thing you want is for your glucose or blood pressure to bottom out!
BOTTOM LINE: Lifestyle as medicine can be potent and fast-acting. The degree to which you make healthy lifestyle changes is the degree to which you will see results.
The United States spends more on health care than any other country in the world, yet we are far from having the healthiest people. It's not a technology problem; it's a lifestyle problem.
Yet there is good news! Each of us has the power to improve our own health, if we choose to. When we think critically about how our lifestyle contributes to our state of health and well-being, and when we find creative solutions for positive change, the sky is the limit.
If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you. -Unknown
The fact that you are reading this says that you are someone who is willing to learn. But when it comes to health, knowing the information is not enough. Applying it is where the rubber meets the road. I challenge you to apply this information in your own life and be unstoppable! :)