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Incoming APA President Sets Out Lifestyle Psychiatry Campaign

‘80% of US health care spending results from unhealthy lifestyle choices’

ACLP Fellow Ramaswamy Viswanathan, MD, Dr.Med.Sc., FACLP, set out a lifestyle psychiatry theme for his term as president of the American Psychiatric Association at the start of APA’s annual meeting in New York City last month.

Ramaswamy Viswanathan, MD, Dr.Med.Sc., FACLP
Ramaswamy Viswanathan, MD, Dr.Med.Sc., FACLP

Dr. Viswanathan said he wanted to choose a theme members could act on immediately to help improve the mental and physical health of their patients. His theme is Lifestyle for Positive Physical and Mental Health.

“Data show us that when an effort is made to live a healthier lifestyle, outcomes for physical and mental health, and life expectancy all improve,” he said. “Many avoidable health conditions and premature deaths can be attributed to an unhealthy lifestyle.

“Lifestyle interventions should be offered in addition to psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy, other somatic therapy, and attention to social determinants of health, not only to ameliorate or cure illnesses, but to help people lead positive, meaningful lives.”

Dr. Viswanathan noted the six pillars of lifestyle medicine: regular exercise, a plant-based diet with minimal or no processed foods, restorative sleep, stress reduction, avoidance of harmful substances, and positive social connectedness.

Eighty per cent of health care spending in the US  is for the treatment of conditions attributable to unhealthy lifestyle choices, said Dr. Viswanathan. Considerable evidence exists for the effectiveness of lifestyle interventions in both physical and mental health.

“Neuroimaging shows an increase in hippocampal brain volume after 12 weeks of moderate intensity aerobic exercise in patients with schizophrenia and normal controls, and this is accompanied by a reduction in negative symptoms and improved cognitive functioning.

“Patients with moderate depression improve as much when treated with an exercise program as when treated with an SSRI, both partly acting by stimulating release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor that promotes hippocampal growth.”

Dr. Viswanathan said he would work with the APA Caucus on Lifestyle Psychiatry and others to develop a curriculum on lifestyle medicine and psychiatry for trainees and APA members, disseminate this knowledge, and encourage practitioners and health care systems to implement lifestyle interventions and promote research in this area.


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