1. Healthy food choices
2. Integrative health care
3. Adequate restful sleep and relaxation
4. Regular exercise
5. Social connections
These important elements form the foundation of healing and they must be addressed in order to return to health. Each element offers options that can be matched to an individual’s unique situation and preferences.
I partner with my patients to uncover the root causes of their health issues. Together, we create a treatment plan to promote their return to balance and optimal health. It is often clear which elements should be addressed during a medical visit. The goal is to develop one or more patient skills or behaviors in each of the five fundamental health elements so that, together, they provide a strong foundation for optimal health.
Healthy Food Choices
A diet based on whole foods is a cornerstone of health and an essential part of any healing plan. Whole foods contain nutrients that work together to support countless functions in our bodies. They provide building blocks for growth and repair, supply raw materials for our bodies to create energy, and support proper functioning of genes.
The keys to incorporating whole food into one’s diet include:
- Knowing how to source and select whole foods.
- Possessing basic cooking skills to prepare simple, delicious, and healthful meals rather than depending on over-processed or fast foods.
- Making space in one’s busy life for healthy cooking and eating.
I may suggest working with a nutritionist or dietician to support my patients in developing and implementing these fundamental skills.
An integrative approach to healing and wellness
As a functional medicine physician, I embrace an integrative approach to supporting each patient’s path back to optimal health. Treatment options are chosen to enhance results and ensure safety. They may include nutrient supplements, botanical medicines, a therapeutic diet, exercise recommendations, and conventional medical treatments when needed.
If more is needed, I may discuss their working with a psychotherapist, a bodywork practitioner, or a practitioner in another healing tradition such as Chinese medicine/acupuncture.
Sleep, mindfulness and stress management
Stress is a part of everyday life. When we encounter real or potential danger, our bodies mount an acute stress or “fight or flight” response so we can react instantaneously, like when we swerve our car to avoid a collision.
Ideally, after such an incident, we return fairly rapidly to a calm baseline state. An excellent example of this can be seen in nature programs when gazelles quickly return to calm grazing just minutes after being chased by lions.
All stress triggers some degree of the physiologic reactions associated with the “fight or flight response.” The challenge of living with serious illness triggers stress, as does an everyday annoyance like rush hour traffic. If we haven’t developed skills to respond to stress in a healthy way, the return to a baseline calm state gradually becomes more difficult. When that happens, chronic stress begins to take a toll on our health. This is often what’s going on when someone says, “I feel stressed out all the time.”
Fortunately, there are many time-tested and research-proven ways to help promote the mental and physical resilience that supports a healthier response to stress. Each of the other elements mentioned here – a healthful diet, integrative health care, exercise, and connection with others – promotes the development of resilience.
Additional approaches to assist with managing stress that I may discuss with my patients include:
- Strategies to support sleep.
- Simple stress management tools such as breathing exercises and relaxation techniques.
- Promotion of mindfulness and relaxation through meditation, yoga, massage, hobbies, writing poetry, singing, playing an instrument, or creating art.
Balanced movement and exercise
Having the strength and stamina to do the things we want to do greatly enhances our life experience. Experiencing the pleasure of a strong and supple body can provide powerful motivation for maintaining an exercise routine throughout our lives.
After considering a patient’s current health condition and level of fitness, we will explore exercise options that are appropriate and appealing to him or her. The goal is to gradually create a well-rounded exercise routine that promotes aerobic activity, strength, and flexibility that she or he enjoys and feels motivated to do. Yoga, Pilates, tai chi or chi gong, which combine strength and flexibility, can be a wonderful way to incorporate a well-balanced, relaxing and fun routine into one’s life.
Healthy goals for any exercise routine include:
- Identifying desired activities based on awareness of and respect for the current condition of your body,
- Developing strength and flexibility without strain or injury.
- Creating a routine that you enjoy and want to maintain and
- Remembering, when first introducing exercise into your life or returning to it after a hiatus, to increase exercise time and intensity gradually to minimize the chance of injury.
Connection, meaning and purpose
Deep meaningful connection to others is a basic human need. It greatly enhances physical and mental health as well as our experience of life. Cultivating a sense of meaning and purpose for our life enhances resilience and provides motivation and context for developing a healthy lifestyle. I recognize that the quality of my patients’ personal interactions and relationships is very important to their overall health and strive to assist them in addressing any issues that they may have with social relationships, attachments, loneliness, and meaningful participation in life.