Lifestyle as Medicine: The Unlimited Potential


Lifestyle medicine is defined as the application of environmental, behavioral, medical, and motivational principles to the management of lifestyle-related health problems in a clinical setting. One organization dedicated to lifestyle medicine is the Institute of Lifestyle Medicine (ILM) in Boston. The mission of ILM, founded by Edward M. Phillips, MD, Assistant Professor, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, HarvardMedicalSchool, is to reduce lifestyle-related death and disease in society through clinician-directed interventions with patients. The ILM is at the forefront of a broad-based collaborative effort to transform the practice of primary care through lifestyle medicine. The organization advocates for changes in the healthcare system by empowering clinicians to facilitate behavior change and stimulate a culture of health and wellness for their patients.

Recently a capacity crowd of over 150 physicians and healthcare professionals from around the world attended a two-day Harvard Medical School Department of Continuing Education and ILM course, Active Lives: Transforming Ourselves and Our Patients. This course provided proven strategies to counsel and motivate patients, as well as evidence-based tools and techniques to prescribe individualized exercise programs. Attendees learned about the latest updates in exercise risks and outcomes; best practices for behavioral counseling; and, participated in exercise classes such as Zumba, Tai Chi, and Yoga.

One of the major goals of the course was for physicians to actually participate in physical activity themselves during the event and to learn about the options they have to fill an exercise prescription to help patients stand up and move. With that in mind–new this year–was the availability of both a treadmill and bike workstation—compliments of LifeSpan Fitness–for attendees to use during the lectures. So, not only did everyone learn more about physical activity in general, they also learned about incorporating activity into the workplace. One attendee tweeted on the first day, “Attending Institute of Lifestyle Medicine CME on activity & bike & treadmill to use during lectures. YES!!” Since sitting is the new smoking—an independent disease risk factor–the more we encourage people to move throughout their entire day and make a variety of lifestyle changes, the healthier they will become.

Healthcare providers, through organizations such as ILM and the Exercise is Medicine™ initiative, are learning to lead by example by transforming themselves to help their patients—and they are learning many new creative strategies to do so such as treadmill desk. David L. Katz, MD, MPH, Director, Yale University Prevention Research Center, in LinkedIn Today asks “Lifestyle as Medicine: At a Fork in the Road, Who’s Got a Spoon?” His answer: “Lifestyle is the best medicine there is, ever was, and likely ever will be…each of us holds the spoon that could get this medicine to go down.”

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