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From the Student SIG

Lifestyle Medicine: Opportunities for Psychologists in Behavioral Medicine

Lisa Page, MA

The road since I began my doctoral program has taken several unexpected turns. When the journey began, I intended to work with veterans returning from combat duty. A bend on the road led me towards Health Psychology, particularly Lifestyle Medicine, which had a significant impact on me both personally and professionally. Lifestyle medicine is "the application of environmental, behavioral, medical and motivational principles to the management of lifestyle related health problems in a clinical setting" (Egger, Binns, & Rossner, 2008). Lifestyle medicine uses behavioral interventions in the prevention, treatment, and management of diseases that represent the top five causes of mortality in the United States: (1) Cardiovascular Disease; (2) Stroke; (3) Lung Cancer; (4) Diabetes; and (5) Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Approximately 80% of deaths related to these diseases are preventable.

Lifestyle interventions are behavioral in nature and depending on the unique needs of a particular client, can incorporate interventions such as stress management, nutrition, exercise, sleep management and smoking cessation. These and other behavioral interventions are often found to be as effective as medications in terms of preventing, managing or treating lifestyle illnesses. In addition, for those who need to take medication (e.g., for high blood pressure or diabetes), behavior modification may help to reduce the amount of medication needed to control blood pressure and glucose levels.

The field of Lifestyle Medicine will continue to grow in the United States, particularly as the country faces more lifestyle-related health challenges. For example, rates of obesity have increased exponentially in the last two decades, and obesity is a risk factor for many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, stroke and diabetes. Lifestyle medicine research can help identify behavioral interventions to help address the obesity epidemic, from preventing obesity in children, to promoting weight-loss in obese adults, to long-term maintenance of a healthy weight.

Lifestyle Medicine offers psychologists a unique opportunity to lend their clinical skills towards dual roles. First, psychologists are highly trained to deliver health-related behavior modification. Second, psychologists can also treat mental illnesses that are often comorbid with chronic illnesses. As Lifestyle Medicine grows, one may foresee the development of interdisciplinary medical practices in which psychologists can serve a central role in conjunction with physicians, nurses, nutritionists, physical therapists, and social workers. An integrated team of medical and allied professionals represents the future of health-care delivery for chronic illnesses and related health concerns.

Personally, as I move forward in my career my goal is to help define the role of psychologists within the field of Lifestyle Medicine. Many challenges lay ahead, such as building credibility, advancing research, promoting evidence-based treatment guidelines, negotiating reimbursement with health-insurance companies, and fostering both health-care policies and philosophies that focus on preventive care. With these challenges, however, come opportunities, both for myself and for all Behavioral Medicine practitioners and researchers.

Additional information can be found at www.lifestylemedicine.org

Egger, G. Binns, A. Rossner, S. (2008). Lifestyle Medicine. Australia: McGraw-Hill.