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What is lifestyle medicine and how can it help our patients?

02 May 2021
Volume 32 · Issue 5


Lifestyle interventions can have a big impact on patients. Katie Whitehead explores what can be done to promote these simple lifestyle changes

Wouldn't we all like another tool in our toolkit for helping our patients? Especially in the current climate with so much pressure on us, and so many people feeling unwell and unhappy. ‘Lifestyle medicine’ is concerned with non-pharmaceutical interventions which can help our patients. Despite the somewhat medicalised name, this area has historically been the bread and butter of nurses, who have long been trained to approach the patient holistically. We have generally been the ones to have conversations about ‘diet and exercise’ and nurses have done fantastic work in this area. But do we all really appreciate the power of these interventions, and the broader scope of lifestyle factors such as sleep and relaxation/stress control, to impact on peoples' physical and mental health?

Most clinical guidelines for managing long-term conditions, both physical and mental, suggest addressing lifestyle/modifiable factors as the first step of treatment. But in practice, this is often only given brief attention, before thinking about which pharmaceutical intervention to try. This is probably due to a few factors, including the unrealistic time constraints of appointments, the sheer workload in primary care, financially incentivised clinical targets, the difficulty of engaging patients in behaviour change, and possibly a lack of appreciation by both health professionals and patients themselves of the genuine potential power of these factors for improving medical conditions.

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