By Amy Zacharias, MD

Dr. Zacharias

When you think of ways to improve your health, improved eating, increased exercise, stress reduction, and better sleep are just a few things that likely come to mind. But when was the last time your healthcare provider addressed these issues?

In the last few years, you may have heard the term “Lifestyle Medicine.” Many people think Lifestyle Medicine is the same as alternative or complementary medicine. Others think it is just another health trend receiving a lot of public attention without evidence to back the health claims. Neither of these statements accurately describes this new medical specialty.

What is Lifestyle Medicine?

According to the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Lifestyle Medicine involves the use of evidence-based lifestyle therapeutic approaches, such as a predominantly whole food, plant-based diet, regular physical activity, adequate sleep, stress management, avoidance of risky substance use, and other non-drug modalities, to prevent, treat, and oftentimes, reverse the lifestyle-related chronic disease that is all too prevalent.

However, healthcare providers often do not emphasize behavior changes. They cite barriers such as lack of time, knowledge, compensation, resources and patient interest.

Why is Lifestyle Medicine important?

  • By 2020, the World Health Organization predicts that two-thirds of all disease worldwide will be the result of lifestyle choices.
  • At least 80 percent of healthcare spending is directly tied to the treatment of conditions rooted in lifestyle choices.
  • Our healthcare system is undergoing a move from an unsustainable fee-for-service model to a value- and outcomes-based system of care.

Evolving curriculum

For the past two years, we have been working to introduce basic concepts of Lifestyle Medicine, including plant-based nutrition, stress management techniques, and exercise prescriptions, into our pre-clinical years at the University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria. We will continue to emphasize the importance of these core competencies during the students’ upcoming clinical years as well.

The hope is that all graduating medical students appreciate the value and effectiveness of Lifestyle Medicine and have knowledge of evidence-based lifestyle interventions that they can easily share with their patients.

How to get involved

Are you a healthcare provider interested in changing the future of medicine? You can now become a diplomat of the American Board of Lifestyle Medicine. Visit the American College of Lifestyle Medicine to learn more.

About the Author

Dr. Amy Zacharias is Director of Academic Programs for the Department of Family and Community Medicine and an Assistant Professor of Clinical Family Medicine.