|ow do we achieve total health? Does it come from effective treatment of “whatever it is that ails us”? Isn’t there more to it?
For anyone associated with Loma Linda University’s School of Medicine, total health involves much more than just the treatment of disease. The university’s motto, “To Make Man Whole,” gives us a clue as to how the concept of lifestyle medicine has always figured directly into innovative approaches its practitioners take to restoring and nurturing good health.
At LLUSM it’s no secret that a total approach to healing is pivotal to wellness on a spiritual, mental, and physical level. And this is a defining point in its approach to health care, in training physicians, and in caring for patients.
What Is Lifestyle Medicine Anyway?
In simple terms, lifestyle medicine is the evidence-based practice of helping people use natural methods for the prevention and healing of disease. What happens when a heart patient receives a stent—a device surgically implanted to open a clogged artery—but then receives no instruction on how to keep their heart healthy by modifying diet, increasing exercise, or managing stress? That patient gets a Band-Aid put on the problem, which offers only a temporary fix. Without educating that patient on how to prevent heart disease, the prognosis isn’t that good. The focus needs to shift from episodic care to prevention and wellness.
A Well-Rounded Education
Lifestyle medicine is gaining momentum in public thought. Especially in North America, where instances of obesity are at record highs, the correlation between lifestyle and health is steadily becoming a topic the average person cannot afford to ignore. Though many people today have a better understanding of how lifestyle affects overall health, putting that knowledge into practice isn’t always easy.
This is not news to LLU, because its very mission gets right to the heart of how sick people become healthy people.
“Loma Linda University is really about lifestyle medicine,” says Wayne Dysinger, chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine for the School of Medicine and director of the Lifestyle Medicine Institute. “How do you protect and maximize health? That is what Loma Linda is all about. The thing that drives me is the concept of treating the whole person. I love the idea that we are individuals created in God’s image. That means we have a lot of good things going for us. Our challenge is to maximize these natural, good things.”
That philosophy is crucial to how future physicians are trained at the university. Along with the clinical training most common in medical school, “we have a very strong preventive medicine curriculum already in place in the freshman and sophomore years,” says Serena Tonstad, professor of health promotion and education, and professor of preventive medicine in the School of Medicine. “In the sophomore year students have a series of lectures and labs…focusing on preventive medicine, which is more than most schools have. In labs they learn practical treatment of obesity; in lectures they get their information on health behavior change—smoking cessation, physical activity, and nutrition. For the senior year, there is another strong preventive medicine track, which is part of the community medicine track they have.”
The medical students not only have lifestyle and preventive medicine curriculum woven into their education from their freshmen year, but graduating physicians can opt for residency training in preventive medicine. Resident physicians specializing in lifestyle medicine, as well as other physicians and health-care professionals, also have the option to earn a master’s degree in Public Health in that specialty, and according to Tonstad, this particular program is the only one of its kind in the nation.
The School of Public Health will also offer the M.P.H. in lifestyle medicine to health professionals in the Trans-European and Euro-Africa divisions during several summers (and online courses throughout the rest of the year) beginning with a cohort in 2011.
Taking It to the World
LLUSM houses an innovative institute devoted to lifestyle medicine. It’s a fairly new organization that coordinates internal resources pertaining to the specialty within the university community, while also interacting with initiatives around the world.
“With the lifestyle medicine [institute] we plan to have it permeate all students’ education here with three aspects: education, service, and research,” Tonstad says.
Currently, there are “active initiatives on the research side to move the findings of the Adventist Health Study out to the world,” Dysinger says. The Adventist Health Study has established findings showing that a plant-based diet is the most healthful, that spirituality is very important in health, and that good health itself is extremely important.
“Loma Linda has received significant funding to help get those findings distributed,” he adds.
The largest killers in the world today are not violence and famine. They are conditions such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes—diseases that can be prevented and sometimes cured by healthful eating, better rest, adequate physical activity, and other natural lifestyle approaches.
“Loma Linda is committed to research, and we train physicians and provide services to help people better adopt those things,” Dysinger says.
These days, that commitment is needed more than ever.
Wilona Karimabadi is marketing and editorial director for Kidsview, the Adventist Review’s magazine for children. This article was published April 22, 2010.