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By: Haley Singer, Undergraduate Student in Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

There is compelling evidence to show that we could eliminate 80% of all heart disease and strokes, 90% of all diabetes, and 60% of all cancers by making changes to our lifestyle. Which opens up the question: what are these changes and why is heart disease still the leading cause of death for Americans? 1

What is Lifestyle Medicine?

The American College of Lifestyle Medicine defines lifestyle medicine as, “the use of a whole food, plant-predominant dietary lifestyle, regular physical activity, restorative sleep, stress management, avoidance of risky substances, and positive social connection as a primary therapeutic modality for treatment and reversal of chronic disease.”2 Lifestyle medicine differs from conventional medicine in that it is not just about treating the disease but treating the cause of disease.3

4 basic lifestyle changes that will prevent and reduce the risk of chronic disease:

  1. Not smoking
  2. Exercise for 30 minutes a day
  3. Eat a diet that emphasizes whole plant foods
  4. Not becoming obese

There is strong evidence that these lifestyle changes will prevent most cases of diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, and cancer.3

Plant-Based Diets for Disease Prevention

Plant focused diets are diets that are composed mainly of plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and legumes. Plant-based eating does not seek to exclude any food groups but emphasizes the consumption of whole plant foods.

These diets are not just beneficial in younger populations as a prevention mechanism, but there is also strong evidence that implies the diet can be helpful to the elderly as well. A publication in the Journal of Geriatric Cardiology states, “A plant-based diet can meet energy and satiety needs and is ideal for the elderly population as it involves simple food preparation, easily digested balanced meals, and, if required, may be easily blended into a flavorful and nutritious liquid diet.”4

A review of 40 observational studies showed that vegetarian diets increase weight loss and reduce obesity-risk, which ultimately leads to a decreased risk of many chronic diseases. The studies on vegetarian diets found the following: “Obesity prevalence ranges from 0% to 6% in vegetarians and from about 5% to 45% in non-vegetarians.”5

How to apply lifestyle medicine for military families:

  • Suggest that your patients avoid smoking or other unhealthy habits that increase the risk of disease.
  • Teach your patients about plant-based diets to support weight loss or reduce the risk of obesity.
  • Discuss with your clients their favorite forms of exercise and encourage them to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day.
  • Suggest changes your patients can make to their favorite meals to make them more plant-forward.
  • Provide your patients with plant-based meal ideas that their families may enjoy.


  1. Katz D. L. (2011). Facing the facelessness of public health: what’s the public got to do with it?. American journal of health promotion: AJHP, 25(6), 361–362.
  2. Core Competencies. (n.d.).
  3. Hyman, M. A., Ornish, D., & Roizen, M. (2009). Lifestyle medicine: treating the causes of disease. Alternative therapies in health and medicine, 15(6), 12–14.
  4. Hever, J., & Cronise, R. J. (2017). Plant-based nutrition for healthcare professionals: implementing diet as a primary modality in the prevention and treatment of chronic disease. Journal of geriatric cardiology: JGC, 14(5), 355–368.
  5. Berkow, S. E., & Barnard, N. (2006). Vegetarian diets and weight status. Nutrition reviews, 64(4), 175–188.

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