By Dr. Wayne Andersen
The practice of medicine is slowly evolving to address the role that habit and lifestyle play in patient health, but the status quo for modern medicine is still largely reactionary. A patient comes in the door with symptoms of a condition, and we try to provide relief for those symptoms through prescriptions or through invasive medical procedures and when we do not address the core cause of a patient’s disease—which is often lifestyle related to obesity rates continue to rise—the patient inevitably returns with the same (or worse) symptoms as before. This was the cycle I saw again and again as a critical care physician.
Under this limited view of how we help people address their health problems, potentially reversible conditions become chronic, lifelong burdens. For many patients—those who are on prescriptions to treat high cholesterol, or chronic pain or even in some cases type II diabetes, for example—a change in habits and behaviors could reverse the disease and eliminate the need for medications. Please talk to your physician before making any changes, even small ones, to your lifestyle or health.
What often happens in our current medical system looks like this: Bill spends several decades eating unhealthy foods and rarely exercising. He works at a desk and has a long commute, so after a long day, he prefers to relax in front of the television. His cholesterol levels rise, his physician notices, and soon Bill has a prescription for statins to better regulate his cholesterol. Bill’s physician will likely suggest that Bill eat healthier and exercise more, but now that Bill has the statins, he may start to think he has to worry even less about his cholesterol. Believe it or not, many patients make worse decisions when they are on treatment plans like this because they feel as though the prescription will protect them from poor choices. They saw a doctor; they got a fix to the problem, so in their minds, they already found a solution when in reality they are making a treatable issue even worse.
While not all diseases are reversible or treatable through lifestyle changes, many are. Recently, physical therapists have started to make a bigger push to treat chronic pain with lifestyle changes in light of the growing problems with opioids. In terms of medical research, we have known for some time that many of the patients who use painkillers could find relief with physical therapy, but the culture around medicine and around our health in general favors the easy solution: a prescription. I am not suggesting that you throw away your prescriptions. Instead, I am suggesting that you look at your Habits of Health and work to unlock your true longevity potential.
You may find that:
- Habits of Health can eliminate your need for a prescription by reversing a chronic condition
- Physical therapy can alleviate pain by correcting the core issue
- Healthier choices make other aspects of your treatment plan more effective
- A healthier lifestyle lowers your risk for disease in general
And again, talk to your physician before making any changes to your health or lifestyle, but this is a major opportunity for you and your quality of life. The medical community is slowly coming around to this way of thinking, and you can help be a driver of that change by addressing the root of many health problems: Habits of Disease. Important Note: Always talk to your physician before making any changes to your routine, your lifestyle, or any current treatment plans.