[00:00:00] Hello friends. Welcome to the episode number seven of the health and science podcast. Dr. Elaine Barretto here. Happy to be back this week again. Here in Singapore, this week is actually school holidays. So I've been doing a lot of things with my kids this week. I confess that I am a tiny bit exhausted because they've been very active and the weather is really hot.
[00:01:17] But I'm really happy to be able to spend this time with them. And it's been great. And I was also happy, I confess, to step off a little bit for a few hours, come here into the office and record his episode for you guys. So it's good to have a mix of both, right? But I try to dedicate them as much time as I can. And I just didn't want to drop the sequence of the podcast here. Okay. So talking about movement and, you know, being outdoors. This podcast today, this episode is about lifestyle medicine. So it's all about how you can use lifestyle, and changes in your lifestyle basically, to prevent or even reverse chronic conditions. This is what lifestyle medicine is all about. So I wanted to explain: what does it mean?
[00:02:09] And this is important, not only for you in your personal life and your family, but also for health professionals. If you have never heard about lifestyle medicine and how you can use this to help your patients or clients, this is made for you. So please stay tuned. If you suffer from a chronic condition or you know anybody in your family and your life that does, that might also be important to understand a little bit better about what are the pillars of lifestyle medicine? What are we talking about? Is this alternative? Is this a complimentary sort of medicine? Is this, woo-woo? Is this science-based? All of those things. So I hope I can clarify a little bit of that in this episode.
[00:02:52] So I want to start by saying that I am a board certified lifestyle medicine professional. This was very important for me to get the certification. And I've worked really hard in the past year or so, two years, to be honest, in order to get that. So there are two main associations that are responsible for lifestyle medicine. One is the American board of lifestyle medicine, American college of lifestyle medicine to be more precise, and this is where it all started in the United States. And then this has evolved into the international board of lifestyle medicine. So now we have this across the world. And, very important. I really want you to contribute for this movement to get far and wide as much as I can. Because once I have learned a few years ago when I started really changing my career into the health space, and I started learning what are the main causes of death around the world... and to be honest, it seems pretty obvious, but I think many of us are not aware. When I was in school, many decades ago -oh my God- and we were talking about the main causes of death being like accidents and lack of adequate nutrition and things like that. I was like, those require huge systemic changes. And for my personal life, there is not so much I can do about it. But the situation has changed very quickly. And now actually the top causes of death are actually diseases that are caused by the way that we live our lives now. And they're all preventable.
[00:04:29] And also in some cases, reversible. So why is it that still, those numbers are growing so fast and what can we do about it so that we don't become part of those statistics in the first place. But also, how can we help as a community and a society in general, right? So I'm so glad that there is this field that I was trying to change that.
[00:04:53] And lifestyle medicine is actually not alternative medicine. It is not complimentary medicine and it's also not functional medicine. Okay. If you've heard all these terms being thrown out there, Lifestyle medicine is a branch of traditional medicine. So it is also evidence-based. What it means that is created through scientific evidence. All peer reviewed science-based.
[00:05:21] Differently than other techniques. I mean, I'm not saying that alternative or complimentary or functional medicine are not important or valid. I also make use of some of those in my practice. But I wanted to clarify by saying that lifestyle medicine is not any of those. It is a branch of traditional medicine you hear about, for example, gastroenterology and neurology. All this different branches that are taking care of different parts of the human body or different systems in the human body. And lifestyle medicine is different in a way that is taking care of your lifestyle.
[00:06:02] What does that mean? It's based on six pillars. So the six pillars are related to physical activity, stress, relationships, sleep, risky substances and nutrition. So the difference is that the aim of lifestyle medicine is not to treat an acute or emergency condition, right? If you're suffering from acute pain, you broke your leg, you have high fever, you're throwing up whatever, something that has to be solved right now. Obviously you're going to search for a professional that can help take care of this immediately. But if you're suffering from a condition that is going on in your life for a long time, such as a cardiovascular condition, such as diabetes type two, for example. Such as, cancer. And we are talking about cancer prevention. And you have it running in your family. Those kinds of conditions they develop over time. For example, in the case of cardiovascular conditions, all this blockage of the arteries, the accumulation of fat in our body, is developed over time.
[00:07:19] It's not from one day to the other, going to see a doctor they are going to have to prescribe you some treatment that is going to be a long-term treatment. And that's where lifestyle medicine also comes in. To support you to slowly do this changes in your life. And how you live your daily life. So that you can reverse or prevent those long built-up inflammation that can cause all this dysregulation of your bodily systems. So let's start by talking about the pillars and explore them one by one.
[00:07:57] And the first one that I would like to talk about is physical activity. I don't like so much to call this exercise. Because this has a certain connotation that already tends to turn off people. The thing is that our bodies were designed to move. Okay. We evolved. Standing up as humans, our muscles, our bone structures, everything in our bodies was designed to constantly move. We were not made to sit down for 12 hours, eight hours in an office. And then go to bed and lay down flat and then stand up and continue and sit in a car, sit in the bus. Sit in a train. Our bodies will suffer. Maybe you won't feel it so much when you're in your twenties or even perhaps in your thirties, if you're lucky, but for sure when you're start reaching your forties, if this is the kind of life you're living, your body will start decaying. It will start presenting symptoms showing to you: okay, you're not treating me well, it's time to change. And for many people, it might sound very intimidating to start introducing, if you use the word exercise, movement in their lives because they say: I have never been a sports person, I don't know how to do anything and move in funny ways or I don't have time. And one of the reasons where lifestyle medicine is there is to help you with tools on how we can explore ways to make this fun. How can we do things that are actually moving our body but don't sound or don't make you feel like this is a burden. How can you increase physical activity? How can you be more active? And the minimum amount of activity you should be aiming for weekly is at least 150 minutes. Sounds like a large number. When we divide this by seven or by five, let's say you're going to be more active five days of your week because the weekends are a little bit harder to control, then we're talking about only 30 minutes a day. 30 minutes a day for moving your body is not much, right? One of the ways you can do this is by using more the stairs, for example, instead of taking the escalator or the elevator, if you're capable of doing this. It's by walking more, instead of always using the car or the transport, even if you have to hop off at a bus stop that is a few stops before your house, let's say, when you're coming back from work, that it's already a way that you're increasing the way you move. By standing up more while we are working. For many people that are wearing smart watches nowadays, we always get this reminder, stand up now, and this is so important. If you stand up every hour and just go grab a cup of water. Say hi to your friends. Move about if you're in meetings. You can try to stand up and work in a standing desk. But whatever small ways. What makes the impact are small incremental changes. It doesn't have to be: tomorrow, I'm going to sign up for a gym and then we're going to enter this program and I'm going to do all these things. And, you know, it has to be things that you can consistently do overtime for the rest of your life. This is the goal. So it's not for you to do a drastic, dramatic change. It's for you to be able to implement small changes that will feel like just part of your habits. It's like brushing your teeth. It's like from now on, I'm going to do this every day and then you slowly start doing it and you develop this muscle memory, right? Your body is going to crave it even, and you're just going to become used to it and start doing it more and more.
[00:11:33] Of course, if you can implement other forms of movement in your life, whatever might become pleasurable to you, for example, dancing or doing some yoga class, Pilates, or any sort of flexibility class that can also help you lubricate your joints and stretch your fascia. That would be great for sure. If you can find things that you can do collectively with other people that also help you in terms of social wellness, right? It will help you be in contact with other folks. And this is always great also for mental health. If you like biking. And you have a infrastructure to do so. That would be great. If not, if you have capability of using a stationary bike in your house, even if you're going to watch TV, right. If you're doing your Netflix and you need to, you know, just decompress from your stressful day and you want to watch a comedy or whatever it is that you're into. Why not do it while moving your body if you can. If you don't have the money or the resources to spend on a stationary bike, a treadmill or whatever it is, all you need is a carpet, or a floor and you can also find ways to move your body while you're watching a TV.
[00:12:48] Or if you're into gardening, but just by being in there and squatting down to do the things you usually have to do going and picking up things and going back and forth, you're obviously being more active. So you can brainstorm and try to think what are things that I have not done in a long time, or that I always wanted to try, or that I'm willing to give it a try to see how I can incorporate them in my routine. This is one of the pillars, right? How can you increase physical activity. Super important for preventing and reversing chronic conditions. Okay. Number two, I would claim is the most important one in the kind of world we're living in right now is finding strategies to manage stress. And, this is not only for people that work in a nine to five job in the office. Usually when you hear stress, you immediately connect to that. Right? Many people do. But life is stressful and stress is not necessarily something bad. Right? Living in a world, society, will be always full of ups and downs. Things will happen, every day there's something new. And some of them will affect us in different ways also, depending on how we're feeling on the day, how we slept, how our health is doing. So when we say stress, we just don't mean job. And it's kind of stress that people tend to relate this word to. We'll be talking about is things that will hit us in a way that might deplete our resources, right. Say, oh, how do I do, how do I deal with this right now? It could be our kids. It could be financial stress. It could be being a caretaker, so many other things. Finding ways to manage stress. What we're trying to say is how can we develop strategies, so that it doesn't affect our bodies in negative ways, because our bodies were meant, were designed, have evolved to deal with stress in short sprints, right? We will have this surge of adrenaline. And our whole nervous system is going to change its response and so on and so forth. But in the short term, we can do this, and it's not a problem, but if this happens over and over again, or if it's sustained for a long time, then it becomes this chronic stress in our bodies. We're definitely not designed to deal with this. This is going to trigger all this inflammation cycle. And it will cause the consequences to the way we sleep. Even we're going to start developing things like fatigue, joint pain, and all the other symptoms that people are always talking about. So how can you develop strategies to manage your stress? There are several ways to do this and different strategies will work for different people. For example, there are people that like to play sports. And they feel like when they're playing sports, they decompress, they forget about the world. And they can enter the state of flow and these will help them forget a little bit about the problems or just burn out the stress and get it out of your system. And this is definitely a very effective way and also incorporates this other pillar of being more active that we just talked about.
[00:16:00] If you're not this kind of person and you are more of a introspective kind of person, things like art therapy, music therapy, or mindfulness meditation. Those might allow you to just be alone with your thoughts and yourself. And find creative ways to switch your brain into this other side, right? There is this very analytical side of our brains. Using different resources than the other side of our brains that is using more to creativity helps us to down-regulate our nervous system, focus a little bit more on the introspection. This is definitely also very important. Being more in sync with your body feeling, for example, your breathing, through breathing techniques. Yoga is also a very powerful way to do that. It can help you find ways to deal with stress. Other ways could be being in nature. Taking a walk outside in nature.
[00:16:57] There are people that like to read a good book and drink a cup of tea. You have to find what works for you. And if you're stuck, if you've been trying for years, and you just say, I have no time, I don't know how to do, how to deal with all the stresses obviously having an effect on my body, you might need professional help. You might want to reach out for a coach or a therapist, someone that can help you find different strategies that you haven't tried yet.
[00:17:21] Then what gets usually overlooked by people, and it's our third pillar of forming and maintaining relationships. I've talked several times about it in the podcast. That we are social beings and it sounds obvious. But as we go about our lives, we are so busy sometimes. And we forget to take care of our social wellbeing.
[00:17:43] If you're taking care of kids. School. Job. House. All other things. How do you make sure to find some time for you for connection? To call a friend, meet up with a friend. Or your partner even, or if you don't have anybody in your life right now, finding a professional which you feel comfortable to develop a positive relationship with.
[00:18:08] All those things are so important to add into your life. If you have changed countries or you moved to a new city or whatever happened, and you haven't developed a new community in there, you can brainstorm how you can find ways to reach out for people. Perhaps they have a group that takes walks in the morning in the forest, or a group that does yoga, or a group that likes cooking together or sewing, whatever it is. You can find an activity that you like to do and seek communities in your place that do similar things. A book club. Find a Facebook group, for expats, whatever it is, find ways to develop new relationships, really real, true connection. People that understand you, that listen to you. And try to cultivate this in your life consistently in your routine. Pay attention every week. How much of it are you finding space and time to do it? The people that live the longest in the world, there was this study, you probably heard about the blue zones, by Dan Beutner, and they found that all this communities in the world, this pockets of longevity where people live really long and happy and healthy. It's not just about how many years you live, but about you thriving. About you being happy and healthy. Those communities, one of the pillars that kept them so healthy for so long are purpose and relationships. So make sure you're cultivating more of that for you.
[00:19:37] Another thing I've mentioned a few times now is sleep. Sleep has such a huge impact on health. And I hear from most of my clients, how they have issues either to fall asleep or to stay asleep through the night. So there are all this sleep hygiene techniques that you can develop to try to improve that. Of course, if you're suffering from a chronic health condition that might also impact your sleep. So if you work together with someone to help you address what could be happening in there, also important. And mental health also affects sleep and whatever medication you might be taking might also affect your sleep. So it's always good to look into this as a more integrative global aspect. But there are things you can do. For example, exposing yourself to sunlight when you wake up for a few minutes to help you reset your metabolism and your circadian rhythm. Make sure that your body understands: okay, now it's daytime! And change your hormones accordingly. It's also a way to improve when you're going to fall asleep again. And you probably know that, but screen time. If you're surfing on your phone and laying down in bed and surfing on your phone, having all this bright light towards your eyes, how is your body supposed to know that this is sleeping time? That it's nighttime? We didn't evolve to this. When few years ago, not that long ago before internet and smartphones, many people used to just go to bed early when there was no TV. Also I have to say TV also came to disturb that a little bit, but when people, you know, were living in the wild, they had to go to bed when it was dark. And lay down. And sleep and wake up when it was daytime. And nowadays we completely disrupted that. But our circadian rhythms, the internal clock that we have, that tells our body when it's day and night, it's still the same. It doesn't know that there is a TV and a screen and a smartphone and a computer and an iPad and all those things. And we have to help our bodies reset if you've created bad habits towards that. Take all our electronic devices away from us before we're going to bed. Put them in a different room if possible. And make sure when it's getting darker, like six, 7:00 PM, depending where you live in, what time of the year it is. But that you start lowering the lights around your house. Many people, especially, for example, I've lived in Denmark. So in Scandinavia people are really good at lighting candles and turning off artificial light. This also helps calming down the system in general, right? Maybe you can put on some music instead of turning on the TV, some calm music. Maybe you can read a book. So, how can you slow down your body? When it's getting closer to bedtime, also avoid eating large meals, too close to sleeping. Make sure you have at least a two, three hour gap after your last meal before sleep time. And what else can you do? When you're enhancing your physical activity, you're also going to have a better sleep. So if you've been moving very little and you start slowly increasing this amount of physical activity, you will feel an impact in your sleep as well. Other things that can disrupt sleep are alcohol. So if you tend to drink that glass of wine before going to bed, that might help you fall asleep but it will feel like your deep sleep won't be as restoring as it could possibly be. Could have something to do with the alcohol. So if this is the mechanism you're using right now, you might want to swap that glass of wine for camomile tea. Or something else.
[00:23:21] And when we are talking about alcohol. Now this is related to the other pillar of lifestyle medicine, which is to avoid or reduce risky substances, addictive substances, like alcohol and tobacco. We don't have to say here, everybody knows that for example, smoking is bad for you. That has been consistently shown in evidence that increases your risk for cancer. And for pulmonary diseases, cardiovascular diseases. I've seen that the statistics have been changing. There are less people smoking around the world now, but it's still quite a lot. And if you've been smoking for many years and you don't know how to quit, you've been considering changing this habit and you've tried many times quitting, but you couldn't do it on your own, please seek help. The same for alcohol. Of course there is social drinking and I'm not here to tell you you're not allowed to drink ever, ever again. But the evidence that has shown that alcohol is actually good for you is nearly zero. If you've read all those studies and the news, the media does say, oh, drinking a glass of wine is good for you. Drinking beer is good for you. Look. Let's look at the real evidence, right? What is good about the wine in terms of protection is not related to the alcohol that is in the wine. Is related to the properties of the grape and the fermentation. So you can still find those benefits without having to insert the alcohol in your life. And if you want to enjoy occasional social drinking, fine, but make sure this is not impacting your life in a consistent basis. If you're doing this every day, several times a week. How many glasses are you really drinking? Start paying more attention to that.
[00:25:11] If you really want to live long and healthy, the best life that you can, you definitely don't want to be drinking a lot. If you need help to also reduce that, seek help. And you know that I'm going to say that. Of course, when we are talking about health and lifestyle and pillars of health, nutrition is going to be there. What you eat has a direct impact on how you feel and how your body works. And what I want to use this opportunity here is not to start going on a tangent about nutrition.
[00:25:46] The pillar of lifestyle medicine is how you can incorporate more whole foods in your life. More whole plant-based foods. And I will definitely have several podcast episodes digging a bit deeper into that because I've specialized a lot on that. And it is so important to me. I've applied this in my own life. I've applied this with my clients and it has such a huge impact, but what I want to leave as an important message today here, when we are talking about nutrition is: number one, it is not about following a specific diet. So I know it's hard. Let's acknowledge that, let's recognize that. The media, there's so much pressure and information that is unhelpful misleading information, telling us about all this fad diets that will help you solve your health condition. And I know when you're suffering, you want to hold on into something that has a promise of helping you. Okay. I understand that. Who, which one of us won't have falling into this trap? All of us have at some point in our lives or several times.
[00:26:52] It is not about following a specific diet, unless you have really a condition that requires that. If you have epilepsy and you have been prescribed by your doctor to follow a ketogenic diet because it has been shown in the evidence that this will help you, this is a different thing. We are not talking about that. We're talking about lifestyle medicine. And how you can prevent and reverse chronic conditions that are caused by poor lifestyle. So if you need to, you know, talk about weight, and if your a doctor has consistently been telling you that you have to find ways to reduce your weight. This also can create so much stigma and social pressure and all of that. It is important to find professionals that can help you with a compassionate approach. We don't want to burden you even further with this kind of affirmations.
[00:27:44] Weight, doesn't equal health. For me, it is important to hold in one hand, the lifestyle medicine principles and pillars. And on the other hand, hold the principles of compassion. Self-compassion, body positivity. How can we make people feel comfortable in the bodies that they're living in right now. This is your body. And you shouldn't hate it in order to change it. This will not help you. Your mental health comes first above all these other pillars that we are talking about. So you need to have a positive relation to your body in order to respect it and take good care of it.
[00:28:20] So let's shift this focus away from how it looks. About looking a certain way. If you're listening to this episode and you're thinking, but I want to, you know, work on building more muscles. And I want to... let's explore a little bit the reasonings behind that.
[00:28:40] What is the main purpose of the changes you want to implement in your life right now? Do you want to be able to carry your own groceries and do more things by yourself? Do you want to be able to have a better overall working body so that you know, you're going to feel better? You're going to live longer. You're going to be able to do more things. You're going to be able to play more with your kids, grandkids, pets, whatever. Just be more present and healthy and happy for life. Or do you want to do this for a certain look or a certain way that he wants to look. Is it the beauty media that is pressuring you? Okay, because you should feel, find ways to feel happy and thrive and have positive relationship with yourself, your body and your thoughts. No matter how you look. And you should feel worthy of love. And care. Exactly the way that you are. And that being said, now, coming back to, to the nutrition aspect. The message that I want you to take out of this episode is: it is not about what you're removing from your diet. It is not about what you're restricting.
[00:29:52] It is not about just what you were replacing, is about: what are you missing in your diet right now. Most people that I talk to, they're all like I have to go dairy free, fat-free, meat-free, carb free, low carb, low this, everything is about restriction, restriction, restriction. And my question to you right now that I wanted to sit down and reflect is: what could you be missing?
[00:30:19] Because if food is medicine, as we are talking about here, and plants are full of antioxidants and things that can prevent disease that can help us, you know, fight disease and prevent it, what could you be missing instead? Because once you start adding the things that you're missing, there's just not going to be enough space for the things that you don't need.
[00:30:41] My approach is to work from this perspective. Okay. It's like, let's first invest. You imagine that investing in your health is like an investment that you do in the bank, or in finances, or, you know, everybody's talking about where should you put your money to get the best investment? And I'm talking about what is the best foods you should be putting in your body to invest in the older you. The future you, the one that is going to be there in a few years, right? How can you invest in that version of you so that it will live longer, that it will feel better, that it will thrive? And for doing that, you first have to think about what are the things that could possibly be missing in your diet. Okay. And then we want you to start slowly adding more of those there will be no space for the other things that you don't need or there'll be less space for them. And then of course is not saying that you're going to seek this perfectionism. That's also not healthy. Right. And we talked about mental health. And that's how people start developing all this disordered eating. We're not talking about perfectionism. We're talking about a long-term positive approach to food. How can I add more things that are good for me and slowly, they will then slowly, automatically replace more of those that are not that great. If you're eating a lot of processed foods, how can you start adding more fresh whole foods, natural foods into your life. And that's all what I'm all about. This is also part of those pillars of lifestyle medicine, how to increase your intake of whole foods, of whole plants, and of course it's super critical for preventing and reversing disease.
[00:32:25] So if you have those six pillars in place in your life, right. We just talked about all of them. So just for us to recap, we talked about moving more. And keep moving. It's not just about doing this sudden burst of movement, but it's about consistently moving a little bit more. Every day, every week, every month. Every year. Thinking about our longevity.
[00:32:50] Developing and finding strategies that work for you to manage stress in your life.
[00:32:55] How to form, create, maintain healthy and positive relationships in your community, and your family, in your life, with a professional, how you can find ways to connect with someone. You won't be healthy without this pillar. Okay. Many people tend to overlook that. But you really need that. That's how we evolved to be. Those are part of our neurocircuits.
[00:33:20] Improve your sleep, finding a new sleep hygiene or trying to figure out what is wrong. If you need to seek a professional, please do so. I am not talking about medication here. I'm talking about how you can find shifts in your routine and your lifestyle and your daily lives that can slowly start improving your sleep condition.
[00:33:38] Then we talked about addictive substances, like alcohol and tobacco, how we have to start reducing them and seeking ways to cope, strategies to slowly remove them from our routine. If we really want to live longer and healthy and reverse or prevent chronic conditions.
[00:33:57] And then we talked a little bit about nutrition, especially from the focus of a positive approach and how we should be including more things that are good for us and think less about dieting and things that are quick fixes. Okay. We're not talking here in this episode about supplements or smoothies or a super thing that you're going to drink and it's going to solve all your problems.
[00:34:17] It's not that. We're talking about whole natural foods, how we can start adding more of what we haven't been consuming lately in order to improve, prevent and improve basically our overall wellbeing.
[00:34:30] So this was my first brief introduction to lifestyle medicine. It's a topic I'm very, very passionate about as you probably can hear in my voice. It has such a huge impact. And I can't believe, you know, that so many people in this world are suffering because they don't have information about it.
[00:34:54] So my goal, my purpose in life is to bring education and tools. So that you can take care of your health by yourself. These might be in the shape of this podcast, of articles in my blog, and courses that you can take by yourself at your own pace. This can be through programs where you can come and work with me in person so that we can go through what are the specific things that work for you. But this is what I want to do. This is what I'm here for. I want to help change those statistics of people that are dying or suffering. Not living their best potential, right. Due to simply the lifestyle, the way that they are living their lives. And I think most people, honestly, are not doing this on purpose. We just get stuck on the cycle because life is so busy, is throwing so many things at us. We just have to survive and keep doing our things. And sometimes we don't have the possibility to stop, pause, and breathe and assess. And say, what could I be trying to slowly change in my lifestyle, my routine in my mindset that will help me build healthier habits for living longer, right? Not for this short term benefits, but really for preventing and reversing conditions that might eventually affect us in the longterm or even kill us. Okay. So let's work together to learn more about it, right? Stay tuned here. And I'll be always bringing you more information. Let's work together to help people in our lives to slowly, also, you know, when we do things together, they're more fun. So, if you're doing those things in your house, if you start slowly changing things in your routine, your habits, the others will watch it. They will learn by example. They might be curious. They might ask you a question, they might want to join you. It's not by forcing people to do it is by encouraging, just showing by example, providing education when necessary, if people ask and you have the information, just providing it to them. It's by finding communities or groups that are following similar principles and doing it together with them so that you don't feel you're alone with this. It's by finding a professional that can go hand in hand and help you through the challenges that might show up, it's all about that. So, I hope you enjoyed this and it was informative to you and it helped you in any way. If you are a health professional, you're thinking about how you can also join this movement, learn more about it, get trained on it. I will be posting the links to all the information regarding lifestyle medicine, boards, associations, colleges around the world so that you can find your own tribe. I'm so proud to be part of this and be able to bring this type of lifestyle medicine information to people and help them improve their lives. And take care of yourself. Okay. Of your loved ones. Stay well. Try to have some fun. And I'll see you in the next episode. Bye.