Lifestyle Medicine is a multidisciplinary approach to health and health problems, bridging the gap between health promotion and clinical practice. Lifestyle Medicine pays specific attention to preventative measures by adding behavioral, motivational and environmental skills to conventional medical practice. Where conventional medical practice normally focuses on risk factors and markers of illness and disease, lifestyle medicine aims to consider the ‘distal’, ‘medial’ and ‘proximal’ contributors such as modern lifestyle, depression, anxiety, smoking, diet and pollution, amongst a range of other factors.
While the interrelationships between such contributors, risk factors and markers may not always be intuitive, employing a range of clinical and public-health interventions can lead to better health outcomes. For example, population obesity rates can be addressed not only through clinical, individual weight-loss programs, but also by considering the environmental impacts of burning fossil fuels for transport on reduced personal movement and energy use.
Lifestyle Medicine differs significantly from conventional clinical practice in requiring patients to be highly active in their own health care. As a result, a deep understanding of the motivational principles governing behavior, emotional responses and the necessary commitments required to make lifestyle changes is fundamental to effective practice.
Between 2011 and 2012 it was estimated that around 3 million Australians were experiencing back pain symptoms, making back pain one of the most common health concerns in the country. Back pain symptoms can present in many different ways, and it is important to be able to recognize symptoms and know when back pain treatment needs to be sought. While chronic low back pain is a frequently occurring problem, studies show that often individuals with back pain engage in more physical, heavy-lifting work and have low physical activity during leisure time. Other factors correlated with lower back pain include smoking, having a higher body mass index, in addition to socio-economic factors, such as living in smaller communities and being less educated than people without low back pain. In this way, lifestyle medicine can be useful when incorporated into clinical practice to reduce the occurrence of such injuries and in understanding contributing factors.
Exercise is regularly studied in Lifestyle Medicine and is shown to have a range of health benefits. Aerobic exercise is known to contribute to weight loss, better sleep, reducing stress and improving high blood pressure, in addition to strengthening bones and muscles. Similarly, sitting down for long periods of time can have a number of negative health outcomes, while breaking up long periods of sitting with standing, slow walking or slow cycling significantly reduces average blood sugar levels throughout the day and night in overweight people. Poor diet and nutrition, physical inactivity, smoking and alcohol consumption are the most preventable lifestyle factors that are considered to account for at least 70% of total healthcare burdens.
By targeting these root causes, a range of health issues can potentially be reduced or prevented. In addition, Lifestyle Medicine allows practitioners to address these contributing factors by prescribing changes in behavior and environment where possible.
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