A Transition to Practicing Lifestyle Medicine

A recent trend in healthcare is an increased focus on wellness and preventative medicine—that is, helping people stay healthy. This transition to practicing “lifestyle medicine” has drawn interest over the past few years, but what is it? And how can you make it a part of your own practice?

What Is Lifestyle Medicine?

In July 2010, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published the results of a two-year project by the American College of Lifestyle Medicine and the American College of Preventative Medicine. This project helped define the emerging field of lifestyle medicine through the collaboration of a number of professional medical associations and organizations.

The publication presented the following definition: “Lifestyle medicine is the evidence-based practice of helping individuals and families adopt and sustain healthy behaviors that affect health and quality of life. Examples of target patient behaviors include but are not limited to eliminating tobacco use, improving diet, increasing physical activity, and moderating alcohol consumption.”

It also outlined 15 core competencies that physicians should demonstrate in practicing lifestyle medicine. For instance, “Demonstrate knowledge of the evidence that specific lifestyle changes can have a positive effect on patients’ health outcomes”; “Assess patient and family readiness, willingness, and ability to make health behavior changes”; and “Help patients manage and sustain healthy lifestyle practices, and refer patients to other health care professionals as needed for lifestyle-related conditions.” These 15 standards fall into five main categories: leadership, knowledge, assessment skills, management skills, and use of office and community support.

How Can I Introduce Lifestyle Medicine into My Practice?

While some practices have been built around the concept of lifestyle medicine, it’s also possible to integrate it into a practice that’s already established.

Start by taking a lifestyle approach when recommending treatments for chronic diseases and common health issues such as obesity and physical inactivity. Encourage healthy lifestyle behaviors as a part of your patient’s treatment plan. To help your patients adopt a wellness mindset, offer information on the benefits of exercise, good nutrition, avoiding tobacco, and drinking alcohol in moderation.

As a next step, use lifestyle medicine as a proactive and preventative tactic. When seeing patients for their annual exams, regular vaccinations, or even acute illnesses, include a discussion of “lifestyle ‘vital signs’ such as tobacco use, alcohol consumption, diet, physical activity, body mass index, stress level, sleep, and emotional well-being.” Monitoring these behaviors and explaining how they contribute to a healthy lifestyle will empower your patients to take an active role in their own health.

What Are Some Informational Resources on Lifestyle Medicine?

With the growth of the Patient-Centered Medical Home (PCMH) model, more and more doctors are seeking training in the practice of lifestyle medicine. Many weren’t taught in medical school how to talk to patients about topics like exercise and nutrition, so they’re turning to continuing medical education (CME). Classes and conferences will help you learn how to build stronger relationships with your patients and lead discussions about healthy lifestyle choices.

For more information on lifestyle medicine, look into the lifestyle and preventative medicine organizations on this list compiled by Medical Economics:

American College of Preventative Medicine

American College of Lifestyle Medicine

Lifestyle Medicine Association

Lifestyle Medicine Institute

Preventative Medicine Research Institute

The Institute of Lifestyle Medicine

Helping patients improve their health—and stay healthy—by making positive changes in lifestyle behaviors can be an incredibly rewarding way to practice medicine. With your partnership and support, as well as the education and information you provide, your patients will be able to proactively manage their health and stop preventable medical issues from developing in the future.


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