“I have decided to be happy because it is good for my health.” – Voltaire. Over two hundred years later, this philosophy has been clinically proven to be an effective approach to overall health and well-being
– The Focus of Lifestyle Medicine.
Lifestyle Medicine incorporates evidence-based traditional medicine, but rather than solely treating symptoms it focuses on the source of the symptoms – your style of life. What are you eating? Are you exercising? Do you use tobacco? How are you managing your stress level? More importantly, what is your mental state? The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that these factors contribute as root causes to an estimated 80 percent of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
What can be life changing is the realization that we can be in full control of these factors. As Lifestyle Medicine practitioners, we tell our patients to start at the top, with your head. Focus first on your mental state and stress levels. These two contribute to your ability to change your habits and adapt to a new way of thinking.
Remember the motto of The Little Engine that Could—“ I think I can, I think I can!” If you think you can, chances are greatly improved that you will! It is not outside forces that make us feel a certain way, it is what we tell ourselves that creates our feelings. A blank document, canvas, or unmarked to-do list is not inherently stressful—it’s your thoughts that can stress you out.
How to proactively manage your style of life:
Change your way of thinking. Quite simply, it’s mind over matter, or in other words – your perception and response to a specific situation. It takes time and practice to master the skill of choosing your thoughts, learning how to respond to a situation versus to instinctively reacting to it. Your perspective on things and situations is heavily influenced by your mood. You can train yourself to be disciplined mentally and develop resilience to the stressors that everyday life presents.
Manage your emotions. From a psycho-neuro-immunology perspective, escalations in your emotions and feelings can cause a flight or fight response. This response causes the release of “bad” hormones, which can raise your heart rate, blood pressure and also cause you to gain weight around your belly over time. The increase in belly fat will cause a decrease in your insulin’s ability to regulate your blood sugar. To a large extent this process occurs as a result of your mental state, which is why we tell patients to start focusing on their mental habits first.
Reduce your stress. Along with mental stability comes the next important factor, stress reduction. This is key to avoiding chronic diseases. Again it has to do with the fight or flight reaction and its effects on your hormones. We all have stress – so how do we learn to cope effectively? Meditation and quiet alone time allows you to acknowledge your feelings and to choose your thoughts. Deep slow breathing and focusing on the inhalation and exhalation breaths allows your body to reduce its own heart rate and blood pressure.
Avoid all tobacco use. Another cause of chronic disease and preventable deaths in the United States is use of tobacco products. Counseling and, if needed, medication can help you “kick the habit.” The good news is that the Department of Health and Human Services coordinates state run Quitlines (1-800-QUIT-NOW ) that can help you achieve your tobacco-free goal – and there is no charge!
Make exercise a priority. In addition, we can’t overlook the power of exercise. Numerous research studies have shown that 30 minutes of exercise, five days a week can have a profound impact on your overall health and well-being. Exercise releases the “good” hormones, serotonin and endorphins, meaning that not only does exercise help you maintain your weight and build strength, but it also improves your mood and your immune system!
Maintain healthy eating habits. The correlation of diet with exercise is a key factor in your overall health and wellbeing. You can have absolute control as to what you put in your mouth. We highly recommended the Mediterranean diet – loaded with lots of legumes, fruits, nuts, fish and chicken, but only a small portion of red meat. According to the American Heart Association, this diet has been proven time and time again to not only reduce your weight, but to also help you live longer.
Know your purpose. Research has shown that beyond diet, exercise, stress reduction and positive attitudes – the impact of spirituality, life purpose and meaningful relationships can have a profound impact on health and wellbeing. So pause for a moment. Consider what is your purpose in life? Do you have significant friendships or an intimate relationship? What legacy will you leave? Reflections on these questions can lead to decisions for lifestyle changes that can contribute to a life well lived.
Life is short, so live in the moment and savor it. Live with passion and purpose. Let go of things (or relationships) that don’t make you feel good, but hold on to those that validate your self-worth. Often times, changing your lifestyle can have a positive impact not only on your health, but on your quality of life. As the poet, Horace, wrote in 23 BC, “Carpe Diem!” – Seize the Day!… And, may we add – “Don’t postpone joy!”
Heather Chronos, Physician Assistant and Linda Kimbell, LCSW, of Cardiology Care Clinic and Lifestyle Medicine of Lake Oconee are committed to promoting and supporting patients in making informed lifestyle choices to improve their health and well-being. Additionally, they are a strategic partner with North Georgia Heart Foundation helping with their efforts to eradicate cardiovascular disease and make a healthier community through a focus on education, research and hope.
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