Updated: Nov 23
Lifestyle medicine is a relatively new field in Singapore. It uses a 'lifestyle-based' approach to health and the treatment of chronic illness, often in conjunction with health coaches to transform the patient's health and wellbeing. Rather than a focus on medication and treating symptoms, the focus is on treating the root cause of illness with long-term health goals in mind.
As ever, please talk to your doctor or medical practitioner most familiar with your medical history before implementing any changes in diet, exercise or lifestyle, especially if you are under treatment. Links to any supporting studies or resources are shared at the end of page.
What is Lifestyle Medicine?
As yet there are no Singaporean organisations promoting lifestyle medicine, although the USA and UK have established bodies. So, what is lifestyle medicine? One definition , from the American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM):
“Lifestyle medicine is a medical specialty that uses therapeutic lifestyle interventions as a primary modality to treat chronic conditions including, but not limited to, cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Lifestyle medicine certified clinicians are trained to apply evidence-based, whole-person, prescriptive lifestyle change to treat and, when used intensively, often reverse such conditions. Applying the six pillars of lifestyle medicine - a whole-food, plant-predominant eating pattern, physical activity, restorative sleep, stress management, avoidance of risky substances and positive social connections - also provides effective prevention for these conditions.”
The British Society of Lifestyle Medicine’s definition parallels the above, and goes on to add:
“To be an effective antidote to the chronic disease problem, lifestyle medicine requires a multidisciplinary multi-system approach – which embraces and works alongside other approaches such as self care, self management, social prescribing and group consultations. It requires clinicians, public health professionals, researchers, scientists and educators working together to affect change. The principles of lifestyle medicine must be applied not only at the clinical practice level, but must also encompass public health policy and prevention. Healthcare professionals, individuals and governments and policy makers must play their part.”
If you are reading this article in Singapore, it might sound familiar… this is part of the framework for Healthier SG, the current transformation of the healthcare system. While health coaching has been announced to be rolled out as part of Healthier SG plan it is still very much under development. Some private medical practitioners have already started to integrate lifestyle medicine and coaching.
Lifestyle Medicine in Practice
Lifestyle medicine is a new paradigm, shifting away from medication and the treatment of symptoms to addressing the root cause of illness. The doctors having been telling us for years, as they hand out the pills, that we need to “eat right, exercise and destress”. The problem is that patients are not always ready or able to change their habits, their lifestyle in the short or the long-term. The conflicts, demands and responsibilities of modern life, especially in a global city like Singapore, more often than not lead to self-care being sidelined.
Addressing work-life balance is one area we often have to address before starting on the other pillars of health.
This is where the role of health coaches comes into play, to help a patient translate lifestyle medicine treatment plans - the pillars of health - into daily life. Health coaches support the patient, the client, to identify and the clarify their health goals. This might be to start and sustain exercise, to eat a healthier diet, to lose weight. Importantly, health coaches partner with their clients to develop health goals that are in keeping with the client's vision and personal values. These are often the neglected part of anyone’s personal health plans. What does this mean in practice?
A common example is the scenario where, with best intentions, someone joins the gym in January and stops in February. Alternatively, they might commence a diet to lose weight but end up yo-yoing back to the weight they started at, or higher.
Health coaches partner with their client to create meaningful goals and support the client in accountability and navigating their journey to health.
With all fingers pointing towards lifestyle as medicine both for treatment and for preventative health, then health coaching is a key element to support both patients and public in the journey to health. However, before lifestyle change can take place, to address the pillars of health, people must be ready to take responsibility for their own health, their own self-care. And this is where we can help.
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Grega ML, Shalz JT, Rosenfeld RM, et al. American College of Lifestyle Medicine Expert Consensus Statement: Lifestyle Medicine for Optimal Outcomes in Primary Care. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. 2023;0(0). doi:10.1177/15598276231202970