A Foundation for Health Revival
October has been an interesting month for me. It began at the 2012 American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM) Conference in Denver, Colorado. What I saw and heard there convinced me that a good foundation is being built for a revival of health in our country.
The theme of the conference was “Treating the Cause,” a novel way to approach medical care. Most medical care treats symptoms after the disease begins, simply hoping to keep it under control. Lifestyle Medicine is different. Its goal is to address underlying lifestyle causes in order to keep diseases away.
The keynote presentation by Dr. Dean Ornish was on the Future of Lifestyle Medicine. He painted a glowing picture of Lifestyle Medicine being on the threshold of dramatic growth as mainstream medicine and the public realize the real value of preventing disease. His credentials are impressive, having proven that serious coronary heart disease can be prevented and even reversed, simply by making effective lifestyle changes.
The next day he gave us a three-hour workshop on office-based principles of reversing heart disease. The workshop was excellent. Among many other things, he revealed that after sixteen years of presenting all his data to Medicare, proving the cost-effectiveness of his method of treating and reversing heart disease, Medicare finally approved the Dean Ornish method of treating heart disease.
Medicare will not approve this method for any other physicians or medical groups until they receive formal training from Dean Ornish himself. In order to satisfy Medicare, he is starting intensive four-day training programs across the country for physicians and their staffs. When they receive a certificate of competence in his program, they will be approved by Medicare, and when that happens, other health insurance companies will do likewise.
The significance of this is huge. Approval of lifestyle principles by Medicare and other health insurance companies will influence many mainstream physicians to adopt lifestyle teaching and treatment methods in their practices, and it will also attract lay people to implement effective lifestyle changes in their own lives. With widespread recognition of how poorly the current health care system is working, the time is ripe for these kinds of changes!
Dr. David Katz, ACLM President-Elect and Director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center, spoke the next day on the great value of a healthy lifestyle in determining quality of life for patients. Many other speakers touched on similar ideas as they talked about specifics of their own preventive programs. All told, the conference was an inspiring event that showcased the impact Lifestyle Medicine is starting to have on the health scene today.
I was also in Florida for two weeks in mid-October, visiting my daughter and son-in-law and their family. While there, I gave several talks on the Power of Lifestyle, including a six-hour seminar at Central Florida College. This was divided into two evening classes for about 75 adults, with excellent participation by those attending. I also gave a talk to the local chapter of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), where I emphasized the value of a positive lifestyle in both prevention and treatment of mental illness. Audience participation was excellent again.
My daughter teaches advanced 8th grade science, and she asked me to speak to her classes while I was there. I was glad to do that, and spent one day talking to five of her classes on nutrition, focusing especially on the science of sugar. I was impressed with their attentiveness. They asked good questions. By the end of class they had a good idea of the value of good nutrition to health, and the scientific reasons why it’s important to minimize sugar. The quick quiz I gave after talking to them told me they had really absorbed this lesson.
Adopting healthy lifestyles is important for people of all ages, but it is especially valuable for young people, so I was glad for the opportunity to speak to these teenagers. Why is it so important for this age group? It’s good to get on the health bandwagon for many reasons. Two major reasons are that the obesity epidemic is striking hard in our country at increasingly youthful ages, and that early damage to vital arteries is now being found by age fifteen. Avoiding these problems by adopting healthy lifestyles early on gives young people a wonderful start in life.
I’ll close by summarizing the main keys to a healthy lifestyle. They are most valuable when they are adopted early in life, but putting them into regular practice is valuable at any age. They include:
- Eat highly nutritious foods frequently and abundantly, while avoiding or minimizing highly processed foods.
- Engage in regular physical activity and balance it with adequate rest.
- Embody good hygiene of body, mind and heart.
- Enhance good connections with oneself, others and God/Universal Source with daily quiet time.
These are the keys to reviving good health for us as individuals. When most of us join this movement, our health as a nation will also revive. This can happen in our lifetime!
Ed Dodge, MD, MPH