Lifestyle Medicine: The Foundation of Conventional Medicine

Updated: Jun 9

This website mentioned in one of the pages that Lifestyle Medicine is the foundation of conventional medicine. When you think about it, it is true. Lifestyle Medicine is a new subspecialty although it has been practiced for thousands of years.

The current COVID-19 pandemic --- together with its consequential imposed safety protocols, quarantines, and community lockdowns --- has forced us to return to the basics and evaluate our current lifestyles. It has changed our approach to everything and that includes a heightened understanding of the importance of exercise, nutrition, stress management, sleep, social relationships, and avoiding toxic substances. Suddenly, the six main focus of Lifestyle Medicine became the center of public consciousness. This article will explain why and how it is so and will describe the basic structure of Lifestyle Medicine as a medical discipline.

Historical Perspective

To understand better the origins of Lifestyle Medicine, let us compare the causes of death between 1900 and 2019. The figure below shows a big difference.

During the 1900’s, acute and infectious diseases ranked high among the causes of death. You will see that all forms of pneumonia ranked first followed by all forms of tuberculosis.

At that time, the technology in medicine focused on the discoveries of cures. The identification of bacteria, the creation of antibiotics and vaccines, and the improvements in sanitation and hygiene that started in the late 19th century trickled down to the early 1900s in the race for eradicating these infectious diseases.

Yet, in 1918, the Spanish flu pandemic came and caused 20 million deaths worldwide in less than one year. This clearly illustrates how unpredictable the emergence of diseases could be. The appearance of AIDS, the re-emergence of multidrug-resistant TB strains during the 1980s and early 1990s provide additional evidence that as long as microbes can evolve, new diseases will appear. Who would have thought that COVID-19 could be this dangerous?

These infectious diseases underscore the importance of disease prevention through continual monitoring of underlying factors.

However, as time went on, the modern post-industrial era resulted in changes of living conditions and lifestyle behaviors. Scientific and technological advances played a major role and became the foundation for today's disease surveillance and control systems.

But despite the technological advances, by 2019, the leading causes of death became chronic in nature. You will see that heart diseases ranked first followed by all forms of cancer. It is even disturbing that suicide ranked tenth. Studies indicated that most chronic diseases are the result of lifestyles fueled by poor nutrition and physical inactivity. It just shows that there is a correlation between modernity and technologies that developed over time during the 20th and early 21st centuries and the changes in human lifestyles.

Chronic diseases are also responsible for most of our health care expenditures. Since 2010, nearly 18% of the US gross national product has been spent on health care, which exceeded $3.0 trillion in 2015. And with the current COVID-19 pandemic, our healthcare system might be on the verge of bankruptcy. If 1 in 10 individuals in the United States would adopt a healthy lifestyle, the amount of money saved could result in billions of dollars saved.

And that is what medical experts have been talking about the past decades until now. Lifestyle medicine first became a movement then later on it developed into a medical discipline.