Doctors' Orders: Lay Off the Meds
58 doctors and scientists urge more "lifestyle medicine"
Welcome back to Age Wise, your weekly update on the science of aging and longevity with an emphasis on physical health and mental wellness at every stage of life. Here are several new and useful items to explore:
Doctors Orders: Lay Off the Meds
Two years ago, I spoke with medical doctors and scientists who gave the U.S. healthcare system lousy grades for preventive medicine, though they had high praise for our emergency-room physicians and ERs in general—which is where healthcare starts for far too many Americans these days. In between is a system that relies heavily on meds, of course. But this system isn’t working.
Some 60% of U.S. adults deal with at least one chronic disease and 40% are diagnosed with two or more.
Now a group of 58 doctors and scientists have come together to produce a new report urging much greater emphasis on “lifestyle medicine,” which involves behavioral changes that can “prevent, treat, and often reverse” many of the most common chronic diseases, they say. “Too many physicians and patients alike may believe they are victims of their genes and they are destined to become chronically ill and dependent on pharmaceuticals,” they write.
The six “pillars” of lifestyle medicine—aimed primarily at educating doctors and other healthcare professionals so they will better advise patients—are things you can take up without a prescription:
Plant-heavy, whole-food eating patterns
Avoidance of risky substances
Positive social connections
Got kids? Then the message goes double for you: “Children and young adults provide a window of opportunity to promote health and prevent disease,” writes one of the study’s authors, Koushik Reddy, MD, a cardiologist and researcher at the University of South Florida.
In my story, I spell out the details and offer links to other articles that give clear, simple advice on how to act on the suggestions—each of which can up your odds of living longer and healthier.
Our View of Death and Dying is All Wrong
Some 38% of Americans die in hospitals and 22% in long-term care facilities. And that was before the pandemic. An aging population and an over-reliance on medical intervention has made dying an invisible, lonely event for far too many, argues a commission of 27 doctors, philosophers, theologians, economists, and experts in health care at the societal and community levels.
“How people die has changed dramatically over the past 60 years, from a family event with occasional medical support, to a medical event with limited family support,” says Libby Sallnow, PhD, a lecturer at St. Christopher’s Hospice in the UK and co-chair of the commission.
Among the proposed remedies:
Dying must be understood to be a relational and spiritual process rather than simply a physiological event, meaning that relationships based on connection and compassion are prioritized and made central to the care and support of people dying or grieving.
Another Reason to Keep Moving
People over 60 who experience frequent fatigue face more than double the risk of death over the next three years, according to a new study of 3,000 people. The finding shows a correlation, not cause-and-effect. The conclusion suggests what much other research has shown: Being in shape by participating in regular physical activity—anything that gets your blood flowing—and thereby reducing your level of fatigue, increases your chances of living longer.
Related: Greater Longevity is in Your Grasp
Be Nice to Your Doctor
Last year, 42% of U.S. physicians said they were burned out. Now, 47% say so. The burnout cuts across many specialties, from infectious disease docs and ER physicians (no surprise) to urologists. Women physicians have been hit hardest, often saddled with more responsibilities at home atop the grueling work of doctoring. Interestingly, the No. 1 cause of burnout wasn’t the sheer overload of patients, but rather paperwork and other bureaucratic tasks.
Covid Just Keeps Killing
Lately the coronavirus is killing about 2,500 people in the United States every day. That’s a pace higher than either of the country’s two leading causes of death, heart disease and cancer. We are not preventing the preventable, and if you are getting older or have an underlying medical condition, you’re at greater risk of adding to the tally.
So a friendly, science-backed reminder: Masks and vaccination, though not perfect, each help prevent infection, and vaccinations and boosters dramatically lower the risk of an infected person dying from Covid. This goes for Omicron, too. And if you were led to believe Omicron isn’t deadly, or that America this pandemic under control, check out this chart from The New York Times:
Related: 9 Reasons Why I Still Mask Up
Bit of Wisdom
Wisdom doesn’t come automatically with age, experience or intelligence. Nor is it easily defined. But experts say the elements of wisdom involve traits most of us aren’t very good at, including self-reflection, accepting diverse perspectives and acting with compassion and empathy. Learn More About Wisdom >
Wonderful to see folks motivated by my article Walk Faster, Live Longer:
“This article is very much appreciated! My husband and I discussed it and have made a commitment to each other to make walking a priority. We can do this!”
“Great article, Robert. I walk every day, but after reading this, I'll make an effort to walk faster.”
— Gill McCulloch
“I love everything about this article! Everyone can find a few minutes for a brisk walk, instead many people invest more time taking a stroll and resenting the time it takes! The benefits of walking are so phenomenal, it should be on every single prescription.”
— Siobhán Dee