“Eat well. Move more. Stress less. Love more.” Is it really that easy?

I’ve been a fan of Dr. Dean Ornish’s “lifestyle medicine” approach to healing and wellness for some time now. His talk at the Global Wellness Summit a few months ago rekindled my interest in this alternative approach to traditional medicine.

Dr. Ornish shares a simple formula (backed up with robust evidence) for healthy living:

Eat well
Move more
Stress less
Love more

By moving to a primarily plant-based diet with smaller portions, getting up and regularly moving our bodies around every day (walking will suffice), incorporating stress management practices (like yoga and mindfulness training) and engaging in social activities by getting more involved in the community we can learn to love more – and as a result greatly improve our chances of living a happy, healthy, long life.

Dr. Ornish’s lifestyle medicine is a branch of the “integrative medicine” movement that is sweeping through health care in the U.S. With this approach, the total needs of the patient are at the center of care – taking in the full range of emotional, environmental, mental, spiritual, social and physical influences impacting an individual’s health.

Conventional clinical interventions – procedures and pharmaceuticals to address and manage disease – still have a role in patient care in an integrative medicine approach, but are only one part of taking care of the whole person.

Charlotte has seen a growth in practices catering to those interested in this more inclusive approach to care. Thrive recently opened with a focus on a comprehensive approach to women’s health (full disclosure: I have great faith Thrive will be a huge success as a few of the physicians in this practice used to be practicing OB/GYNs and did a terrific job delivering our children!). Dr. Russ Greenfield has been a pioneer of this approach in Charlotte for a few decades now, recently joining with Novant Health to lead that hospital system’s integrative approach.

“Integrative” and “lifestyle” medicine approaches are attracting more physicians interested in the ability to provide this kind of “whole person” level of care, and increasingly patients are opting for this approach.

It all makes so much sense…so what’s the catch?

For individuals with means, this approach will likely continue to grow. But what about those without the financial means to take advantage of this approach to wellness?

Is this promising practice out of reach for those with limited resources?

In theory, it would seem this “integrative” approach holds great promise to help all individuals, regardless of economic station in life.

However, at Care Ring, we recognize the powerful impact that external forces have on the health and wellness of folks with limited resources. These “social determinants of health” include larger, systemic issues bearing down on the health of individuals and communities.

From environmental issues like poor air or water quality, to lack of adequate housing or transportation options, and perhaps most pressing a lack of access to affordable, high-quality food, the challenges folks in poverty face when they are trying to live healthy lives are enormous and for far too many, seemingly insurmountable.

Telling someone working multiple jobs and living in an unsafe neighborhood that they need to “stress less” by incorporating yoga into their daily routines many not resonate or be realistic. Asking homeless individuals to “eat well” seems beyond reality, when just navigating through their daily lives is a herculean task in and of itself.

But this is not to dismiss this “integrative” approach as totally unworkable or unrealistic for individuals in poverty. Innovative partnerships with high quality, nutritious food options is being incorporated into food “farmacies” at clinics like Care Ring’s around the country.

The role of the community clinic social worker has become central to keeping lower income individuals healthy – these folks have connections to a broad array of social supports far beyond critical clinical care that individuals with limited resources often need.

I suspect the “integrative medicine” approach to putting people on a path to long-term health and wellness is not just a passing fad, but will become increasingly central to how we improve health care in the United States. My hope is as our society incorporates these proven ways to help people live well that we make sure those with the least do not get left behind.

#integrativemedicine #holisticmedicine #lifestylemedicine

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