I find it inspiring to see a growing new generation of doctors and medics emerging in various corners of the world who are pushing the frontiers of modern medicine and advocating the power and virtue of what’s being dubbed ‘Lifestyle Medicine’. In essence, these are the brave MD’s willing to set aside reliance on pharmaceuticals as a one-size fits all treatment regimen and align themselves and their careers with their profession’s fundamental Hippocratic ethos to ‘first, do no harm’, to ‘prevent disease wherever possible since prevention is better than cure’ and to ‘let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food’. This growing movement worldwide is a multidisciplinary and evidence-based effort to find new ways to treat, manage and reverse chronic illness. It is about reframing healthcare to focus on lifestyle factors which are increasingly recognised as being the root cause of most chronic illness. This approach fosters an attitude of shared commitment both among health professionals and between physician and patient in supporting effective behavioural change and improving public health education in a joined-up and collaborative way. Having been in health provision circles for many years, I find it immensely refreshing to witness the dawning of a more intelligent approach to healthcare, as the gulf between Western biomedicine and holistic medical models begins to close.
Lifestyle Medicine is premised on six key pillars that all influence and contribute to our health: 1. Physical activity and exercise 2. Diet and nutrition 3. Sleep 4. Stress reduction and mental health 5. Reduction or cessation of harmful substances and influences (tobacco, alcohol, drugs, various chemicals) 6. Healthy relationships. Interestingly however, it also acknowledges other significant factors that impact health on a more societal level such as deprivation, social isolation, lack of hope, climate change anxiety and health inequality to mention a few.
Take Dr. Aseem Malhotra for instance, the highly esteemed, award-winning cardiologist who is regarded as a ‘medical game-changer’ with his mission to not only highlight the links between sugar consumption and a raft of obesity and heart-related diseases but who bravely speaks out with his voice of professional authority about the potential dangers of some pharmaceutical drugs through his work on ‘A Statin-Free Life’. Then there’s Dr. Chatterjee, whose ethos is “to empower you to become the architect of your own health”. His ‘Feel Better, Live More’ podcast regularly tops the Apple Podcasts chart across the UK and Europe as people become hungrier for a more wholesome approach to life, living and health. Another example is Dr. Rob Verkerk PhD who founded the Alliance for Natural Health. His work includes directing legal actions to protect the right to natural health and has been on the forefront of developing a new model for proactive health regeneration and health system sustainability with his ongoing research, education and campaigns that focus on building multi-system resilience through such cornerstones as healthy diet, lifestyle and targeted supplements.
While this new generation of medics and thought leaders is incredibly encouraging for the future of health provision, I can’t help smiling to myself. Is it really all that ‘new’? Chinese Medicine is fundamentally premised on the principles of lifestyle medicine. It IS ‘lifestyle medicine’. The Chinese and indeed Japanese culture of yesteryear made lifestyle medicine an art form: the more profoundly in harmony and balanced your lifestyle and sense of selfhood, the more revered you were. No living on Starbucks coffee and fast food to get through your white-knuckle-ride of a day for those guys. While cherry blossom bliss and existential simplicity may seem like an unachievable myth to us now, the art of lifestyle medicine or Yang Sheng Fa as it’s called in the Chinese medical tradition is really about a shift towards deeply aligning ourselves with all that supports us to flourish in a profoundly coherent way. Of course that means nourishing ourselves with food that is wholesome and vitalised. Inevitably that includes leaning into the rhythms of the day, the week and the seasons with life-work balance and an appreciation for the value of relaxation and quality sleep. It naturally advocates for tremendous physical engagement, activity, suppleness and fitness. But more than that, it understands that we are beings of consciousness and energy in physical form, and therefore models of health and disease need to reflect this. It’s not enough to attend to just the physicality of health and illness as this is simply the endpoint. It is to embrace the absolute interconnectedness between our psychological, emotional, and spiritual life with our physical health. It is to know that equanimity, kindness, optimism, patience, dignity and resilience are powerful medicine. It’s to grasp that living with a sense of purpose, inclusion and community is a tonic for the soul. And that the depth of our capacity to relate and communicate with authenticity is a balm for the heart. It is to grasp, viscerally, that our environment does affect us and being out in nature is a tonic like no other. Furthermore, it is to not underestimate the powerful potential of supporting ourselves to eat, sleep, relax, move, relate, share, express, laugh, love, care, cry, forgive, strive, play, create, reflect and pray for initiating a transformative healing journey that really can begin to reverse chronic illness.