But they would be wrong!
I’m here to report that intensive lifestyle change is doable, sensible, and essential for good health. Cardiologist Dr. Dean Ornish is a pioneer of intensive lifestyle change. I had the opportunity to hear him speak at the Harvard Medical School Lifestyle Medicine Conference in July. (You can listen to his TED talks here.) Dr. Ornish and his team started researching this program decades ago, and they have consistently found positive results.
Research-based intensive lifestyle change
So, what exactly that does their program look like? It emphasizes nutrition and exercise, as one would expect, but it also addresses psychological factors like loneliness, isolation, depression, and anger. Why? Because research shows emotional and social health is associated with a reduced risk of disease and premature death. He spoke about the importance (research-proven) of connection, intimacy, and love. He points out that a lot of “bad” behaviors such as smoking, drinking, and overeating are actually people’s attempts to self-medicate emotional pain.
What doctors and patients need to know about intensive lifestyle change
The overall message for physicians is this: an intensive lifestyle change program won’t work if it’s just “ordered” by docs, or if patients are expected to engage with it based on threats and warnings. During the
The Ornish program is just one approach to diet, exercise, and psychological lifestyle changes. Dr. Ornish is honest about this, and he himself points out that many programs emphasize the same things as he does:
- a plant-based diet (meaning eating mostly fruits and veggies)
- avoiding sugars and flours, especially those in processed food (prepared foods, foods in boxes)
- limiting animal products.
He also emphasizes that any increase in physical activity is desirable, and patients can follow the specific recommendations from their physical therapists, doctors, or trainers. And of course, people can use a variety of resources and methods to improve stress management, coping, and communication skills.