Interested in reversing chronic disease and lowering your medicine rather than adding medicine to control your high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes?

Lifestyle Medicine is the practice of using lifestyle changes to prevent, treat, and reverse chronic diseases. The benefits of what we eat, how we move, and what we think is powerful medicine when we look at the treatment of common diseases like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity. Lifestyle Medicine focuses on eating whole, plant-based foods to increase the fiber in your diet, which is beneficial for controlling blood sugars, decreasing cholesterol and decreasing inflammation. Eating mainly plant-based foods also decreases inflammation by increasing the natural antioxidants and healthy minerals and vitamins that are critical for improving our health.

Lifestyle Medicine also focuses on increasing our movement every day as studies show daily activity is powerful medicine for decreasing inflammation, lowering blood pressure and lowering cholesterol in addition to stress relieving benefits. The recommendations for adults is to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity, aerobic exercise weekly. This can be accomplished in 10-minute bouts, three times a day, or for 30 minutes, five days a week. Moderate-intensity, aerobic exercise is defined as activity that will cause your heart rate and breathing to increase to the point that you cannot sing, but you can still hold a conversation. It is also recommended that adults participate in resistance training with light weights at least two days a week. The strength training helps to build stronger muscles and bones to help decrease falls as well as we get older.

Our mindset, mood and how we think is also an important focus of Lifestyle Medicine. Our lives are all very stressful and the importance of finding ways to deal with this stress in a healthful way is a proven strategy to reducing chronic disease. Focusing on relaxation techniques is powerful medicine to improve our sleep, improve the function of our immune system and decrease inflammation. Having decreased stress levels helps maintain improved blood sugar, improved blood pressure, and prevent plaque build-up in our vessels reducing the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes.

Getting regular sleep at least seven or eight hours every night is also very important to maintain a healthier life and decreasing the risk of chronic medical diseases. Improving restful sleep is important and studies show watching TV or using phones, iPads within one or two hours of going to sleep can decrease the natural melatonin released and can decrease restful sleep.

Therefore, listening to relaxing music, reading a relaxing book, taking a warm bath or shower and drinking warm, decaffeinated teas all can be helpful to improve the ability to fall asleep. Also, it is important to keep your bedroom cooler between 68 to 69 degrees Fahrenheit as well, as it can help with more restful sleep. Also, some people use white noise like soft music or a fan at night, as that also can be helpful to fall asleep and to stay asleep throughout the night.

Lifestyle changes are effective medicine for so many of our chronic diseases. Maintaining a whole-foods, plant-based diet, regular exercise, stress management techniques and good sleep hygiene can help prevent, treat, and reverse chronic diseases leading to a longer, healthier, and more vibrant life.

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Dr. Emily Sheahan is a family medicine and obstetrics physician who is also certified in lifestyle medicine, practicing at Mountain View Medical Group in Wallowa County.

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