The American College of Lifestyle Medicine defines lifestyle medicine as
"the use of evidence-based lifestyle therapeutic intervention—including a whole-food, plant-predominant eating pattern, regular physical activity, restorative sleep, stress management, avoidance of risky substances, and positive social connection—as a primary modality, delivered by clinicians trained and certified in this specialty, to prevent, treat, and often reverse chronic disease"
But what does it mean in practice? I think of lifestyle medicine as the management of chronic diseases within a socio-psycho-bio-medical framework that incorporates the three Fs and the three Ss.
What is the socio-psycho-bio-medical approach I hear you say?
This approach to chronic disease management considers all aspects of a person's care including social supports, psychological therapies, biological therapies and medical interventions. It emphasises the role of lifestyle but does not replace or exclude appropriate pharmaceutical or surgical management of chronic diseases.
What are the three Fs and the three Ss? They are the following.
Feet reminds us to consider exercise as a lifestyle medicine intervention. It is recommended for most adults that they engage in at least 150 minutes of brisk walking (or equivalent exercise) per week.
Fork reminds us to consider diet as part of a lifestyle intervention. As per the definition above, a lifestyle medicine practitioner would recommend a whole-food, plant-predominant eating pattern to maintain a normal weight and nutritional balance.
Fingers remind us to consider abstinence from cigarettes and other illicit drugs. They also remind us to limit alcohol intake to no more than ten units per week and no more than four units on any given day.
This reminds us that most adults need between seven to nine hours of sleep per night. The days of the sleep-deprived hero are over. Evidence now demonstrates the health benefits of a good night's sleep which one dismisses at one's peril.
Stress is known to contribute to and exacerbate the burden of chronic disease. Stress management interventions should be incorporated into any lifestyle medicine plan of care.
Socialisation reminds us that we are social animals designed to engage positively, purposefully, and meaningfully with our tribe. Loneliness is now known to affect chronic diseases and put us at risk of premature death. Treating loneliness and encouraging the development of positive, purposeful, and meaningful social networks is an important part of a lifestyle medicine plan.
Dr Ferghal is both qualified and experienced in the field of lifestyle medicine.