Benjamin Franklin guided us well with his famous quote, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Hippocrates said, “If we could give every individual the right amount of nutrition and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.” He also said, “Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity.”

This love motivates me when writing these columns for the community and our specific topic today of promoting a healthy lifestyle. As a primary care enthusiast, along with my colleagues at The Wright Centers for Community Health and Graduate Medical Education, I take these wise adages to heart.

However, we recognize that there are frequent disconnects between what humans know we should do and our lifestyle behaviors. Behavior change can be really challenging, and old habits are hard to break. Doctors know this, because we’re human too.

As a result, we see so many preventable health problems. We appreciate the many struggles of our patients when it comes to lifestyle behaviors that contribute to chronic diseases like obesity, hypertension, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia and cardiovascular and kidney problems. These are serious health issues that could be better managed and even possibly prevented from happening in the first place.

In Northeast Pennsylvania, it’s very clear we’ve got a lot of work to do together in terms of promoting awareness and adopting healthier lifestyle choices. Lackawanna County’s rates of manageable chronic conditions and related deaths are higher than both our state and national standards. We can — and must — do better.

We know that we need to do a better job with our patients in terms of building their insight, desire and readiness for changes that will empower their success. Responsively, we are very excited to be unveiling and launching our new Lifestyle Medicine initiative at all locations of The Wright Center for Community Health. This initiative aims to support and validate patients’ healthy behaviors and to help them better self-manage their health risks.

So what is Lifestyle Medicine? It’s a therapeutic, evidence-based, primary care-delivery approach that encourages patients and families to take wellness and healthy living into their own hands. Care teams engage in honest, realistic and empowering dialogue and prioritized goal-setting with patients.

How does Lifestyle Medicine work? It introduces positive changes into daily life in realistic measures. Through steps like adopting more plant-based diets, increasing exercise, reducing stress, getting a good night’s sleep, abstaining from tobacco and limiting alcohol consumption, we hope to see a drastic decrease in chronic diseases in our local communities.

Seems pretty obvious, right? Lifestyle Medicine is a lot more than lectures about things you already know. It’s a holistic approach that focuses on improving choices and inspiring patients to want to change negative patterns of behavior. By doing this, and also educating our patients about the true impact these changes can make, we can actually prevent, manage and reverse chronic diseases. With the right support, patients will be better equipped and prepared to replace bad habits with healthier ones.

How does it impact the community? More than $3 trillion dollars are spent in America on health care every year, and over 80% of that goes to treatment of chronic conditions that could have been avoided or reduced with early lifestyle changes. With more people giving Lifestyle Medicine a real chance, we can collectively put that money toward much better things that enhance our individual, family and collective life experience as a community.

Why is it important? Studies show that when doctors properly educate patients on lifestyle changes, it enhances their understanding, empowers them for healthy decisions and improves their health outcomes.

Rolling out Lifestyle Medicine to patients isn’t enough; change also must happen within the profession of medicine. I’m proud to say that as we share this new approach with the patients, families and communities that entrust us with their care, The Wright Center will simultaneously teach Lifestyle Medicine to all doctors in training and our care teams, no matter what roles they play. This will ensure that a Lifestyle Medicine approach will be part of every standard patient encounter.

The Wright Center has always been immersed in the community and focused on training compassionate health professionals who feel privileged to serve their patients, families and community. Through Lifestyle Medicine, we will enhance our comprehensive, compassionate, patient-centered and community-focused health services that promote the welfare of and reverse the chronic disease burden in the United States.

I hope you will join us on this journey of loving self-care. You, and everyone who cares about you, deserves it. Please talk to your primary care provider about Lifestyle Medicine. We’ll be by you every step of the way to better health and longer, happier lives.

Linda Thomas-Hemak, M.D., a primary care physician triple board-certified in pediatrics, internal medicine and addiction medicine, leads The Wright Center for Community Health as CEO and serves as President of The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education. She lives with her family and practices primary care in Jermyn. Send your medical questions to news@thewrightcenter.org.

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