The importance of lifestyle medicine in disease prevention – UBNow: News and views for UB faculty and staff

Four of the top 10 causes of death in the US – heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes – are preventable. But the number of deaths and rates related to these chronic diseases continue to rise.

Paul Washburn, MD ’16, MPH ’16, director of the Health Medical Institute in Cheyenne, Wyoming, wants to raise awareness of the importance of preventive care to address this issue. He focuses his work primarily on lifestyle medicine, “an evidence-based approach to treating and reversing disease by replacing unhealthy behaviors with positive ones,” he explains.

Washburn outlined his thoughts on lifestyle medicine in a recent episode of UB’s alumni webinar series.

“The pillars of lifestyle medicine correlate with value-based and positive outcome disease reversal,” he says, noting that to achieve this, people need to emphasize a healthy lifestyle.

Washburn, who has formal training in preventive, internist, lifestyle and public health medicine, offered tips on how to apply the principles of lifestyle medicine to improve health and increase life expectancy. They include:

  • Eat healthy foods like fruits and vegetables.
  • Being physically active, which can include activities such as walking, gardening, and exercising.
  • Recognizing negative stress reactions and identifying mechanisms to manage these reactions.
  • Preventing substance abuse by quitting tobacco use and reducing alcohol consumption.
  • Ensuring good sleep quality by identifying dietary, environmental, and coping behaviors to improve sleep health.
  • Building social connections and relationships to prevent social isolation.

Washburn addressed the diet and exercise aspects of the lifestyle spectrum, talking about the different types of carbohydrates — simple (sugars) and complex (starches, fiber) — and their impact on insulin levels.

“When you eat simple sugars and carbohydrates, they cause blood sugar spikes, which then cause a huge spike in insulin,” he says. Complex carbohydrates, he says, contain more nutrients and are more beneficial than simple carbohydrates. In addition, exercise is very beneficial for the body and increases insulin sensitivity.

Washburn also spoke about his work on human metabolism, which also looks at the most influential lifestyle variables, diet and exercise.

“There is an endless supply of new knowledge and ever-growing research into how we can understand human metabolism, function and optimal performance,” he says. He recommends using metabolic syndrome – a collection of disorders that occur together and increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes – as a health care diagnosis.

“Anytime someone comes in and they have obesity, high blood pressure, triglyceride abnormality or hypertriglyceridemia, diabetes, etc., those are all things that we need to list,” he explains. Using a primary care model, he offered some tips on how to combat the problem of looking at just one condition versus the full metabolic profile:

  • Physicians should treat all (or almost all) of a patient’s ailments in one visit to develop a complete treatment plan.
  • The healthcare system should move away from individual services to a simple billing system.
  • Healthcare providers should simultaneously listen and advise patients to achieve an ideal model of patient-provider reciprocity.

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