Lifestyle Medicine focuses on empowering people to adopt and sustain healthful habits in order to reach their optimal level of health. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as, “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”1,2 As defined by the Merriam Webster Dictionary, lifestyle means “the typical way of life of an individual, group, or culture,” and medicine means “the science and art dealing with the maintenance of health and the prevention, alleviation, or cure of disease.”3 Together, the two words, lifestyle medicine, form a burgeoning domain in healthcare that seeks to not only add years to people’s lives, but also life to their years.
The American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM) states, “Lifestyle Medicine is the use of evidence-based lifestyle therapeutic approaches, such as a plant-predominant dietary lifestyle, regular physical activity, adequate sleep, stress management, avoidance of risky substance use, and other non-drug modalities to treat, often reverse, and prevent lifestyle-related, chronic disease.”4 By examining a person’s daily activities; how they move, what they eat, when they sleep, how they manage stress, with whom they connect and spend time, and if they abstain from toxic substances (e.g., smoking), a healthcare practitioner is working with a patient’s lifestyle to optimize their physical, mental, and social well-being.
Hippocrates expressed some of the main tenets of this field with his words, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” “Walking is man’s best medicine,” and, “If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.”5 Although the basic principles of lifestyle medicine have been discussed for centuries, their adaptation into a modern medical discipline is relatively new, as the ACLM was founded in 2004, and is actively evolving.
An Evidence-Based Practice
Research published in the past three decades demonstrates the impact that lifestyle practices can have on health with a focus on routine exercise, a healthful diet, not smoking, and maintaining a weight within a healthy BMI range.6–9 In 1993, a landmark paper in JAMA posited that the “actual,” or root causes of death were not the diseases cited on death certificates (e.g., heart disease, cancer, and stroke), but instead the underlying behaviors and exposures largely responsible for the development of these diseases, including smoking, poor diet, lack of physical activity, and excessive alcohol consumption. In fact, the authors estimated that approximately 80% of premature death in the United States was due to poor lifestyle.6 In 2004, another JAMA review revealed similar results.10
The evidence that unhealthy lifestyles not only cause disease but that healthful lifestyles could, in fact, prevent disease was demonstrated in Germany, where researchers estimated that 80% of chronic disease could be avoided ...