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

Four of the 10 leading causes of death in the US (heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes) are preventable. But, the number of deaths and the rates associated with 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 in addressing this problem. He focuses his work primarily on lifestyle medicine, “an evidence-based approach to treating and reversing disease by replacing harmful behaviors with positive ones,” he explains.

Washburn outlined his thinking on lifestyle medicine during a recent episode of the UB Alumni Webinar Series.

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

Washburn, who has formal training in preventive, internal, lifestyle and public health medicine, provided advice on how to use the principles of lifestyle medicine to improve health and increase life expectancy. They include:

Eat healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables. Being physically active, which can include activities such as walking, gardening, and exercising. Recognize negative responses to stress and identify mechanisms for coping with these responses. Prevent substance abuse by quitting smoking and reducing alcohol intake. Ensuring good-quality sleep by identifying dietary, environmental, and coping behaviors to improve sleep health. Build connections and social relationships to prevent social isolation.

Addressing the diet and exercise aspects of the lifestyle spectrum, Washburn discussed the different types of carbohydrates, simple (sugars) and complex (starches, fiber), and their effects on insulin levels.

“If you’re eating simple sugars and carbohydrates, they cause spikes in blood sugar, which then cause a big spike in insulin,” he says. Complex carbohydrates, she says, contain more nutrients and are more beneficial than simple carbohydrates. In addition, exercise is very beneficial for the body and increases sensitivity to insulin.

Washburn also discussed his work on human metabolism, which also addresses the most impactful lifestyle variables of nutrition and exercise.

“It’s an endless supply of new knowledge and ever-expanding research on how we can understand optimal human metabolism, function and performance,” he says. He recommends using metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions that occur together, which increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes, as a health care diagnosis.

“Any time someone comes in and they have obesity, hypertension, triglyceride abnormalities or hypertriglyceridemia, diabetes, etc., those are all the things we need to list,” he explains. Using a primary care model, he provided some advice on how to combat the problem of looking at just one condition versus the full metabolic profile:

Physicians must address all (or nearly all) of a patient’s conditions in one visit to develop a comprehensive treatment plan. counseling patients simultaneously for an ideal model of patient-provider reciprocity.