The importance of lifestyle medicine in disease prevention – UBNow: News and views for UB faculty and staff


Four of the 10 leading causes of deaths in the US — heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes — are preventable. But, the number of deaths and rates associated with these chronic diseases keeps rising.

Paul Washburn, MD ’16, MPH ’16, director of the Health Medical Institute in Cheyenne, Wyoming, wants to increase awareness of the importance of preventive care to address this issue. He concentrates his work primarily on lifestyle medicine, “an evidence-based approach to treating and reversing disease by replacing unhealthy behaviors with positive ones,” he explains.

Washburn outlined his thinking on lifestyle medicine during a recent episode of UB’s Alumni Webinar Series.

“The pillars of lifestyle medicine correlate to value-based and positive-outcome disease reversal,” he says, noting that for this to occur, people must emphasize a healthy lifestyle.

Washburn, who has a formal training in preventive, internal, lifestyle and public health medicine, provided tips on how to use the principles of lifestyle medicine to improve health and increase life expectancy. They include:

  • Eating healthy foods, like fruits and vegetables.
  • Being physically active, which can include such activities as walking, gardening and exercising.
  • Recognizing negative stress responses and identifying mechanisms to cope with these responses.
  • Preventing substance abuse by stopping the use of tobacco and reducing the intake of alcohol.
  • Ensuring good quality sleep by identifying dietary, environmental and coping behaviors to improve sleep health.
  • Building social connections and relationships to prevent social isolation.

Addressing the diet and exercise aspects of the lifestyle spectrum, Washburn talked about the different types of carbohydrates — simple (sugars) and complex (starches, fiber) — and their effects on insulin levels.

“If you are eating simple sugars and carbs, they cause blood sugar spikes, which then cause a huge insulin spike,” he says. Complex carbohydrates, he says, contain more nutrients and are more beneficial than simple carbohydrates. In addition, exercise is very beneficial to the body and increases insulin sensitivity.

Washburn also talked about his work on human metabolism, which also addresses the most impactful lifestyle variables of nutrition and exercise.

“It is an endless supply of new knowledge and ever-expanding research on how we can understand the metabolism, function and optimal performance of the human,” he says. He recommends using metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions that occur together, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes — as a diagnosis in health care.

“Whenever someone comes in, and they have obesity, hypertension, triglyceride abnormality or hypertriglyceridemia, diabetes, etc., those are all things we need to list,” he explains. Using a primary care model, I have provided some tips on how to combat the problem of looking only at one condition versus the full metabolic profile:

  • Doctors should address all (or nearly all) of a patient’s conditions in one visit to develop a full plan for treatment.
  • The health care system should move away from fee-for-service to a simple billing system.
  • Health care providers should listen to and advise patients simultaneously for an ideal model of patient-provider reciprocity.

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