Integrative Lifestyle Medicine: Strategies for You and Your Patients

integrative lifestyle medicine

In a recent MedBridge blog post, Dr. Chad Cook quoted a Lancet study: “Despite an investment of millions of dollars and thousands of studies examining best treatment approaches, we’ve plateaued in our efforts of improving patient outcomes.”1

In addition to the problems Dr. Cook addresses in that article and the solutions he provides, another to consider is that Western medicine tends to focus more on intervention and less on prevention and self-care strategies. Perhaps it’s time for some changes.

I hope to encourage clinicians to explore various lifestyle medicine strategies and how they may include more self-care techniques into therapeutic interventions to improve outcomes.

Why “Integrative”?

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health defines alternative medicine, complementary medicine, and integrative medicine as:2

  • Alternative—Non-mainstream practice used in place of conventional medicine
  • Complementary—Non-mainstream practice used together with conventional medicine
  • Integrative—Bringing conventional and complementary approaches together in a coordinated way

lifestyle medicine courses

What Is Integrative Lifestyle Medicine?

Frates, et al., define lifestyle medicine as “The use of evidence-based lifestyle therapeutic approaches, such as a predominately whole-food and plant-based diet, regular physical activity, adequate sleep, stress management, avoidance of risky substance use, and other non-drug modalities to treat, oftentimes reverse, and prevent the lifestyle-related, chronic disease that’s all too prevalent.”3

Integrative medicine brings Eastern and Western medical approaches together as an evidence-based approach to healthcare.

As seen in Figure 1, the American College of Lifestyle Medicine outlines the six pillars of lifestyle medicine.

Lifestyle MedicineFigure 1. Components of lifestyle medicine

A Sample Self-Care Strategy for Personal or Clinical Use

Circadian rhythms can impact our overall health and wellbeing.4 Figueiro, et al., state, “Light can also elicit an acute alerting effect on people, similar to a cup of coffee.”5

In 2019, a pilot study by Burgess, et al., concluded, “Morning bright light treatment is a feasible and acceptable treatment for U.S. veterans with chronic low back pain. Those who undergo morning bright light treatment may show improvements in pain, pain sensitivity, and sleep. Advances in circadian timing may be one mechanism by which morning bright light reduces pain. Morning bright light treatment should be further explored as an innovative treatment for chronic pain conditions.”6

A randomized study by Leichtfried, et al., suggested that even low dose light therapy “could improve depressive symptoms and reduce pain intensity in chronic nonspecific back pain patients.”7

So how can we increase light exposure for overall wellness? Recommend some of these strategies to your patients—and add them to your own life as well!

  • Eat breakfast near a window or on your patio, porch, or balcony.
  • Engage in outdoor exercise such as walking, hiking, or biking.
  • Engage in outdoor activities such as gardening in your backyard.
  • Create a fitness room in your home with large windows.
  • Perform tai chi, qigong, mat Pilates, or calisthenics in your backyard, at a high school track, or at a nearby park.
  • Plan outdoor activities during the weekends.
  • Take winter vacations in sunny climates.
  • Remodel your home to add more windows or skylights.
  • Place your home computer so it faces a window (but avoid direct glare).
  • For patients or clients in skilled nursing facilities, try opening the blinds to let natural light in (especially in the morning), perform therapy and exercise outdoors, and encourage other activities—such as reading—near a window.

Learn more about including integrative medicine into your life and practice with these resources:

  1. GBD 2015 Disease and Injury Incidence and Prevalence Collaborators (2016). Global, regional, and national incidence, prevalence, and years lived with disability for 310 diseases and injuries, 1990-2015: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2015. Lancet (London, England), 388(10053), 1545–1602.
  2. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2020). What’s in a name? Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from
  3. Frates, B., Bonnet, J.P., Joseph, R., & Peterson, J.A. (2019). Lifestyle Medicine Handbook: An Introduction to the Power of Healthy Habits. Monterey, CA: Healthy Learning.
  4. Turner, P.L. & Mainster, M.A. (2008). Circadian photoreception: Ageing and the eye’s important role in systemic health. British Journal of Ophthalmology, 92(11), 1439–1444.
  5. Figueiro, M.G., Nagare, R., & Price, L. (2018). Non-visual effects of light: how to use light to promote circadian entrainment and elicit alertness. Lighting Research & Technology, 50(1), 38–62.
  6. Burgess, H.J., Rizvydeen, M., Kimura, M., Pollack, M.H., Hobfoll, S,E., Rajan, K.B., & Burns, J.W. (2019). An open trial of morning bright light treatment among US military veterans with chronic low back pain: a pilot study. Pain Medicine, 20(4), 770–
  7. Leichtfried, V., Matteucci Gothe, R., Kantner-Rumplmair, W., Mair-Raggautz, M., Bartenbach, C., Guggenbichler, H., & Gehmacher, D., et al. (2014). Short-term effects of bright light therapy in adults with chronic nonspecific back pain: A randomized controlled trial. Pain Medicine, 15(12), 2003–2012.