Stress and Lifestyle Management

If you ask what is the single most important key to longevity, I would have to say it is avoiding worry, stress and tension. And if you didn’t ask me, I’d still have to say it.

George Burns

Stress is a significant factor contributing towards the current global health burden.

Because “stress” is so universal , it is often something that people take for granted as part of their life, whilst exploring other ways to manage their condition or their lives. Sooner or later, the inflammatory effects of stress start to manifest. Our bodies are adapted to manage acute stress – it is an entirely appropriate mechanism that we have that is necessary for our survival. For example, a threat such as being confronted with a predator, gives rise to hormones like cortisol and adrenaline being produced so that the body gets prepared to be able to run away from the threat. This has been a necessary evolutionary mechanism for survival.

However, the brain does not distinguish between one type of stress or another. So, in today’s world that means anything that causes the person “stress” – e.g work, financial strain, homework, relationship issues and even the mere thought of any previous emotional times (like sadness, grief, anger) – has the same hormonal effect- but because these stressors are ongoing and never go away completely as they’re in one’s daily life, this stress response continues – ultimately wreaking havoc and leading to much of the chronic illnesses we are seeing today. We are the only living beings that can instigate a stress response by mere thought alone.

Lifestyle as medicine has the potential to prevent up to 80% of chronic disease; no other medicine can match that. In addition, it is potentially inexpensive and even cost-saving; free of all but good side effects; safe and appropriate for children and octogenarians alike. It is, quite simply, the best medicine we’ve got.

David Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP
President, American College of Lifestyle Medicine

Managing lifestyle is the foundation for good health. The basic pillars of a nutritious diet, movement, adequate sleep, relationships and connection are imperative. No amount of medications, nutrients or herbs can replace a poor lifestyle. Sure, they can help but the benefits are likely to be amplified when the foundations are there – like a building, we can only work when there are adequate foundations, otherwise the building will collapse.

This doesn’t mean that everything needs to change overnight. Everyone is different and would need to be done in a way that is appropriate and practical for the individual at that point in their life.

Change takes time, but as the Tanzanian proverb goes,

Little by little, a little goes a long way

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