Lifestyle Medicine: A Holistic Approach to Health and Well-being

by Amy Brooksbank | Mar 29, 2024 | Lifestyle Medicine, Physician Staffing
Lifestyle Medicine: A Holistic Approach to Health and Well-being

In recent years, lifestyle medicine has emerged as a transformative approach to healthcare, placing emphasis on the importance of behavior in preventing, managing, and treating the burden of chronic disease. According to the American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM), this discipline focuses primarily on six domains: eating healthfully, being physically active, managing stress, avoiding risky substance use (tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs), getting adequate sleep, and having healthy relationships or a strong support system. Some adherents also incorporate broader social determinants of health in the definition, like social and environmental factors, poverty, health inequity, and social isolation. We’ll further define this discipline, the diverse array of practitioners involved, the patients who benefit from its interventions, and its potential impact on physician staffing and healthcare delivery.

What is Lifestyle Medicine?

Lifestyle medical specialties revolve around addressing modifiable factors such as diet, physical activity, stress management, sleep quality, and substance use to optimize health and prevent chronic diseases. Its core principles are grounded in evidence-based practices aimed at empowering patients to analyze the way they live and make sustainable changes. These interventions are tailored to each patient’s unique needs, incorporating elements of behavior change, patient education, and ongoing support to foster long-term health improvements. Research indicates that lifestyle modifications can lead to significant reductions in risk of diabetes, as well as other chronic diseases such as obesity, certain cancers and cardiovascular disease.

The origins of this specialty can be traced back to ancient medical traditions that recognized the importance of lifestyle factors in maintaining health and preventing disease. However, it wasn’t until the 20th century that lifestyle medicine began to gain traction as a distinct modern medical discipline. Pioneers such as Nathan Pritikin and Dean Ornish conducted seminal research demonstrating the efficacy of lifestyle interventions for heart disease. Their work laid the groundwork for this discipline, which has since been formalized and endorsed by organizations like the ACLM.

lifestyle medicine

What Types of Patients Seek a Holistic Approach to Health?

Patients who seek out lifestyle interventions often have chronic conditions such as obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Many of these individuals are motivated to make lasting changes to improve their health and quality of life. Rather than simply managing symptoms, a holistic approach to health  addresses the underlying causes of conditions. By focusing on behavior change, education, and support, lifestyle medicine empowers patients to take an active role in their health and well-being.

Who Practices Lifestyle Medicine?

This specialty includes a diverse range of healthcare professionals, including physicians, nurse practitioners, registered dietitians, exercise physiologists, psychologists, and health coaches.  Practitioners undergo specialized training in lifestyle medicine, equipping them with the knowledge and skills needed to assess, prescribe, and monitor lifestyle interventions for their patients. They often employ a multidisciplinary approach, collaborating with colleagues from various specialties to provide comprehensive care. Integrating lifestyle medicine into education and training programs is critical for preparing future healthcare professionals to address the root causes of chronic diseases.

Similar to other non-traditional medical specialties, this discipline typically requires medical training followed by additional education and certification. Professionals interested in this field often pursue programs accredited by the ACLM or similar organizations, which offer comprehensive training in lifestyle interventions and behavior change techniques. Additionally, individuals may seek certification through the ACLM or the International Board of Lifestyle Medicine (IBLM), demonstrating competency in areas such as nutrition, physical activity, stress management, sleep optimization, and substance abuse cessation. This rigorous training equips healthcare workers with the knowledge and skills needed to address the root causes of chronic diseases through lifestyle modifications.

Various medical specialties show interest in the field lifestyle medicine due to its holistic approach to health and emphasis on preventive strategies. Primary care physicians, including family medicine practitioners, internists, and general practitioners, are particularly drawn to how it aligns with their role in promoting long-term health and disease prevention. Additionally, specialties such as cardiology, endocrinology, and gastroenterology frequently incorporate its principles into their practice to manage chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. Psychiatrists, psychologists, and behavioral health specialists also find this approach addresses mental health disorders and promotes psychological health through lifestyle interventions.

physician staffing

Does This Specialty Impact Physician Staffing and Healthcare Delivery?

The growing recognition of lifestyle medicine’s efficacy has significant implications for physician staffing and healthcare delivery. As the demand for these services continues to rise, there is a pressing need for trained practitioners to meet the demand. According to research published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, healthcare organizations are integrating lifestyle medicine into primary care and specialty services, recognizing its potential to improve patient outcomes and reduce healthcare costs. This has led to the development of fellowship programs, certification courses, and continuing education opportunities to equip healthcare professionals with the requisite knowledge and skills.

Everything Old Is New Again

Lifestyle medical specialties emphasize the importance of behavioral factors in promoting health and preventing the burden of chronic disease. Although its origins are in ancient traditions, taking a holistic approach represents a paradigm shift in modern-day medicine. With its rich historical roots, diverse range of practitioners, and profound impact on patient health outcomes, lifestyle medicine offers a promising path to improving population health and reducing the burden of chronic illness. As the field continues to evolve, its influence on physician staffing and healthcare delivery will undoubtedly continue to shape the future of medicine.


One of our specialist will reach out to you.