Updated: Jun 16
Do you imagine what your life will be like in your 70’s?
Will you jump out of bed each day ready to try new things like woodworking or watercolor painting?
Will you have the energy to have fun with your family and friends?
Will you have the stamina to go traveling?
Medical advancements mean that we can live longer than in previous decades.
But it’s not just about living longer. It’s about the quality of those years. You’d like to enjoy your retirement — that means focusing on your health now to ensure you’re not slowed down by chronic disease.
Chronic diseases are defined as conditions that last one year or more and impact your daily activities and quality of life. The most common are:
Chances are that you or someone you know lives with one or more chronic diseases. According to the CDC, one in every six American adults is battling chronic disease and one in four has two or more conditions. (1)
But wait — there is some good news.
You can change your health markers. It’s even possible to reverse some of these illnesses. Lifestyle medicine focuses on helping you create healthy habits so you can live an optimal life and have that dream retirement.
What is Lifestyle Medicine?
Lifestyle medicine is centered on lifestyle choices to transform your health.
The official definition according to the American College of Lifestyle Medicine website is:
Lifestyle Medicine is the use of evidence-based lifestyle therapeutic intervention as a primary modality delivered by clinicians trained and certified in this speciality, to prevent, treat and often reverse chronic disease. (2)
So what aspects of your lifestyle should you make changes to?
The areas to focus on are referred to as the Pillars of Wellness. The 6 keys towards disease prevention are:
Whole-food, plant-strong nutrition
Reduction of Stress
Omitting risky substances like smoking or excessive alcohol
Satisfying social relationships
Don’t worry –you don’t have to turn into a ripped bodybuilder or only eat lettuce to apply these ideas to improve your health.
Let’s look at each of the Pillars to understand how they impact your long-term health and some simple ideas to get you started.
The Six Pillars of Wellness
Lifestyle medicine physicians focus on the whole person, not just symptoms. Initial appointments include a comprehensive assessment to understand your current needs, health history, and eating habits.
The doctor will provide information and advice regarding recommended lifestyle changes in these areas.
Fruits and vegetables are packed with nutrients. One of the best things you can do for your health is to eat a diet that is predominantly whole-food, plant-based. This means that your meals are based on fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
People who eat mostly plants are thinner, have lower cholesterol, and lower blood pressure, which reduces their risk of heart disease. (3)
Of course, it’s not easy changing your diet overnight. The key is to start making changes gradually and stick to them.
Smoothies are an easy way to get both fruits and veggies into your diet at the start of your day.
Choose a recipe that has both so the sweetness of the fruit masks the bitter, nutrient-packed greens.
Here’s a video that shows you how to make five veggie-packed fruit smoothies.
We all know that exercise is important for better health. The key is consistency.
Regular exercise provides many benefits such as weight management, better sleep, and strong mental health.
Physiologically, exercise can fight health issues such as high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. (4)
Work towards getting some type of movement in every day.
These days there are podcasts for every topic under the sun! Pick something you’re interested in and find a new podcast to listen to while briskly walking around your neighborhood. It’s like binging your favorite subject.
Quantity and quality are equally important for a good night’s sleep. Your body uses this time to boost the immune system.
Lack of restorative sleep can create problems such as heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, and stroke.(5)
It’s a myth that you can get by with little sleep! Adults should sleep 7 - 8 hours each night – at least. Teens and children need even more than that.
Turn off all devices at least one hour before bedtime. Their blue light rays make it more difficult to fall asleep.
It’s probably no surprise that stress can be harmful to your health. Chronic stress can show up in a variety of health issues starting with digestive problems, headaches, and insomnia, to name a few.
Long-term stress can lead to even more significant challenges such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. (6)
Exercise, mindfulness, and eating right are all effective stress management tools.
Meditation can lower your blood pressure and your heart rate. There are lots of free beginner’s meditations on YouTube. Here’s one to get you started: 10 Minute Meditation for Beginners.
Giving up smoking and keeping your alcohol consumption in check will keep you on track for that healthy retirement life.
According to the CDC, “Cigarette smoking harms nearly every organ of the body, causes many diseases, and reduces the health of smokers in general.”(7) Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the US — making a strong argument for giving up cigarettes for good!
Drinking alcohol has many adverse effects on your health including certain types of cancer and damage to your heart, pancreas, or liver. (8)
If you don’t wish to nix alcohol completely, drink moderately to limit your risk of harming your health.
Test out some activities with friends that don’t revolve around alcohol, like playing tennis or learning a new card game. These activities have the added benefit of exercising your body and mind.
Friends & Family
Your relationships affect your mental and physical health, too.
Many studies have shown that people with a network of positive, supportive relationships live longer.
Take a look at the “Blue Zones”, where people live longer than any other communities in the world. When asked their secret for longevity, people in these places have said “it’s not about what you ate for dinner, it’s about who you ate it with.”
These communities value strong relationships above all else. We could learn a thing or two about health from these folks!
Still social-distancing? Your family lives far away? Set up a regular Zoom get-together with friends or family.
To shake things up, take a look at this article: 40 Thought-Provoking Questions to Get to Know Your Family. (This strategy also works in person!)
Combating chronic diseases is within your power! Improving your habits in each of the Six Pillars of Wellness will have a positive impact on your life.
It can be overwhelming trying to sift through all the information to find the best path to good health. You want the right advice that is based on evidence, not the latest health trends.
You don’t have to do it alone. We can help.
At Baltimore Lifestyle and Culinary Medicine, our approach is based on actual scientific studies. We will give you the right advice and help you gradually build healthy habits that will have a long-term benefit to your health.
Please contact us to let us know what you most need help with.
We are here for you every step of the way.