Cultivating Change w/Lifestyle Medicine by McKenzie Johnson, MDI Intern 2017-18

Lifestyle medicine captures the idea of investing in long-term, lifestyle changes to help prevent and manage chronic health conditions. The American College of Preventative Medicine defines lifestyle medicine as a scientific approach that utilizes lifestyle interventions such as nutrition and physical activity, rest and stress reduction, and smoking cessation and limiting alcohol consumption to reduce the risk of and manage chronic diseases (Lifestyle Medicine Initiative).

Did you know that 7 of the 10 leading causes of death are chronic diseases? Or that 1 out of every 2 adults lives with a chronic disease, and 1 out of every 4 adults has two or more chronic diseases (NCCDPDH)?  The stats are alarming, but there is hope.  Check out the CDC’s infographic to learn more about chronic diseases in the US.

Change is the process of something becoming different. When it comes to making changes towards better health, change can be difficult, and it can take time.  Changing your entire lifestyle can seem like quite the daunting task.  Even developing new habits can be a challenge.  Beginning with small changes is key to being successful.  Small changes, over time, form new habits that ultimately characterize a transformed life.

Changes that are meant to be made for the long haul will provide the best outcome for your health. These are not “quick-fixes”.  Lifestyle medicine is the therapeutic effect of leading a healthier life.  It’s about valuing and incorporating habits into your daily regimen that promote good nutrition, natural movement, adequate rest, minimal stress, and healthy behaviors.   Here are some tips and ideas for changes that you can start making in your life to be healthier, to better manage your chronic disease(s), and possibly prevent diseases from developing in the first place.

NUTRITION– Food provides the resources your body needs to operate effectively. Unfortunately, in today’s media-inundated world, nutrition misinformation is everywhere.  It seems that nutrition headlines are constantly contradicting one another.  One day you may read a headline claiming vegetables are the cure for all diseases and the next day you read plants may actually be killing you.  To be sure you receive credible, evidence-based information, as well as coaching and support to help you reach your health goals, find a local Registered Dietitian. Registered dietitians have extensive education and training in nutrition, anatomy and physiology, chemistry, and even motivational interviewing.  They are the nutrition experts.

PHYSICAL ACTIVITY– The CDC recommends that adults aim to have a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, 75 minutes of high-intensity aerobic activity per week, or some combination of the two (Current Physical Activity Guidelines, 2016).  This averages out to about 30 minutes of exercise a day for five days a week.  As for strength training, the recommendation is for a minimum of two days per week.  Remember, exercise doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go to the gym.  Join a walking club, go for a hike on the weekend, or swim laps at your local swimming pool.  Be creative and have fun.  Make sure you have a support group.  Do something you love and enjoy; this will make incorporating physical activity into your lifestyle much more sustainable.

STRESS AND REST– Getting in your R&R is very important to your overall health. Unmanaged stress has been linked to physiological changes in our body that affect our immune system and can lead to many diseases and disorders such as anxiety, heart disease, and weight gain (Mohd., 2008).  Below are some ideas to help mitigate stress in your life:

  1. Practice mindfulness. This could be mindful eating, meditation, prayer, or mind-body activities such as yoga. Focus on the present. Use each of your senses to truly be in the moment.
  2. Breathing. Deep breathing supplies oxygen to the brain, stimulating the parasympathetic system, and causing a calming effect in the body (Marksberry, 2012).
  3. Be active. Physical activity releases endorphins that elevate your mood (Stress: 10 Ways to Ease Stress , 2014).
  4. Make a change. If your job is constantly stressful, maybe it’s time for a new occupation. Maybe your living circumstances are tense, or you have toxic relationships in your life. Whatever the source is, it may be time for you to cut ties or make a change.

SMOKING- We know that smoking, or tobacco use in general, can lead to many serious health conditions such as lung disease and cancer. It is amazing how the body can begin to heal and repair itself.  Even if you have been a one-pack-a-day smoker for 30 years, quitting today will have profound effects on your body.  Check out this infographic on how quitting smoking changes your body. For more resources and support, check out the MT quit line.

ALCOHOL ABUSE- For those who choose to drink, the US Dietary Guidelines consider up to one drink per day for women (of legal drinking age) and up to two drinks per day for men to be reasonable (US Department of Health, 2015). Excessive drinking, anything beyond the daily and/or weekly recommendations, and binge drinking can be harmful to your body and dangerous.  For more information, check out these resources: Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020 and National Institutes of Health: Low-Risk Drinking. And remember, not all alcoholic beverages are the same.  For more information on alcohol drink equivalents, check out National Institutes of Health: Standard Drink.

Remember, lifestyle medicine is all about making permanent changes in your life that promote good nutrition, natural movement, adequate rest, minimal stress, and healthy behaviors.  Begin with a single change, practice it, master it, and begin again until you have a renewed lifestyle.  Developing a new, healthier way of life is the only way to make changes that will last.


Current Physical Activity Guidelines. (2016, November 29). Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Excessive Alcohol Use: Preventing a Leading Risk for Death, Disease, and Injury. (2015, December 31). Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

How Quitting Smoking Changes Your Body. (2017, December 6). Retrieved from The Huffington Post:

Lifestyle Medicine Initiative . (n.d.). Retrieved from American College of Preventative Medicine:

Marksberry, K. (2012, August 10). Take a deep breath. Retrieved from The American Institute of Stress:

Mohd., R. S. (2008). Life Event, Stress, and Illness. The Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences, 9-18.

NCCDPHP. (2017, August 7). Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Stress: 10 Ways to Ease Stress . (2014, September 4). Retrieved from Cleveland Clinic:

The Mayo Clinic Staff. (2016, April 21). Chronic Stress Puts Your Health at Risk. Retrieved from Mayo Clinic:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary

Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at

What’s “low risk” drinking? (n.d.). Retrieved from Rethinking Drinking:

What’s a standard drink? (n.d.). Retrieved from Rethinking Drinking: