Doctors love to give advice, but lifestyle recommendations are often glossed over, as many doctors don’t think that patients will adhere to them. It also takes more time in an office visit to discuss and recommend things like dietary pattern, exercise, stress management, sleep and weight loss.
Wouldn’t you rather just take some pills?
Prescribing medication for health problems is the quickest “fix” and many people expect this. Have high blood pressure? Here is a pill. Have type 2 diabetes? Have a few more. Believe it or not, lifestyle approaches to health are more potent that most medications for health problems. Once you are on 5-10 medications a day taken at 2 or even 3 different times, you may want to consider another approach. It is very difficult to follow a medication regimen like this, let alone the cost and possible drug interactions and side effects.
What is a more natural approach to good health that I can control?
I encourage my patients to consider working on some key lifestyle elements:
- Activity level
- Dietary pattern
- Stress Management
The longer you live with a poor lifestyle ,the more likely you will develop major health issues. Optimizing these lifestyle components can dramatically improve health.
A huge issue when it comes to our overall wellbeing and energy level. Getting less than 6 hours daily or more than 9 hours daily is associated with obesity and increased mortality. Sleep disorders (such as obstructive sleep apnea) are tremendously harmful over time taking as many as 5 years off your life. Feeling tired all the time? You must consider sleep as a potential cause. Optimal sleep for most people is in the 7-8 hour/night range.
Our bodies need to move. Activity can be defined as steps per day: <5000 – sedentary, 5000-7500 mildly active, 7500 -10000 moderate activity, >10,000 Highly physically active. Many now use step counting devices to track this. Increasing your step count is a sure way to improve your overall health.
Training with light weights can also have great health benefits when done twice weekly along with other activities. Being active doesn’t have to be structured exercise. Using the stairs, parking farther away from work and other adjustments can increase your overall daily physical activity.
It is true, you are what you eat. For most patients, I encourage an eating pattern that is low in sugar, starch and processed foods and seed oils.
Our dietary requirement for carbohydrates is zero. We can survive and be completely healthy on protein and fat. I think knowing this helps us cut back on the sugar and starch that has been largely responsible for an Obesity and Diabetes Epidemic around the world. Of course, there are many opinions about the “optimal diet”, but natural whole foods are in all of these recommend dietary patterns.
With increased weight comes increased health risks. Obesity has been directly linked to 236 chronic medical conditions. Most of these can be prevented or improved through weight management. You can see major metabolic improvement with just 5% loss in body weight. I work with my patients on a weight based approach to health for this reason.
Many of us lead very busy stressful lives. This takes a toll over time. Constantly activating our stress hormones leads to weight gain, mental health issues, heart disease and many other negative health problems. Learning to manage stress can be difficult, but is necessary to be healthy and happy. Some turn to meditation as a tool to manage stress. Sometimes it is a matter of correcting “priority replacement”, when we replace our personal priorities (sleep, healthy diet, exercise, down time) with other things like working excessively or devoting all of our time to caring for others needs. Finding a better balance can lead to better health (and personal survival)
Improving our lifestyle can be a challenge, but it is under our control.
I believe it is a better alternative to more doctors visits, hospital visits, prescriptions and lab tests. What do you think?