Lifestyle Medicine and The Ornish Spectrum: New Light on an Old Idea

More than 2,500 years ago, Hippocrates, who often is considered to be the father of Western medicine, pointed to the innate healing power of nature and the body, expressed in the concept of “vis medicatrix naturae.”

The body has an innate ability of the body to heal itself, Hippocrates held. The job of the physician is to set up the right conditions to help this natural process to unfold. As such, Hippocrates could be considered to be one of the first exponents of a new and fast growing trend in medicine: lifestyle medicine.

“Let your food be your medicine and your medicine your food,” Hippocrates is credited as saying. “Walking is man’s best medicine,” is another simple, but powerful advice attributed to him.

How Lifestyle Changes like Yoga Can Improve Health

Fast forward to today, and lifestyle medicine is undergoing a resurgence; indeed, some may described it as the hottest and fastest growing new trend in medicine. In a medical system with costs escalating out of control and an obesity-related epidemic of diabetes and heart disease well under way, the idea that simple lifestyle changes can improve health is more attractive than ever.

At the forefront of the lifestyle health movement today are pioneers such as Mark Hyman and Dean Ornish, MD. Dean Ornish, of course, is well known to yoga practitioners for being the first to introduce millions to the benefits of adapting healthy lifestyle changes, including yoga, and showing the potential of simple lifestyle measures in reversing heart disease.

The Ornish Spectrum: The Four Key Elements of Lifestyle Medicine

Ornish is at the forefront of broad-based collaborative efforts throughout the medical community to transform the practice of primary care through lifestyle medicine. What we eat, how we respond to stress, whether or not we smoke, how much we exercise and the quality of our relationships can make a powerful difference in our health, well-being and survival.

For more than 35 years, Ornish and his colleagues at the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, have conducted a series of scientific research studies that have been empowering the way millions of people think about simple lifestyle choices they make each day in relation to their health and well-being and offering them new hope.

Instead of trying to motivate (patients) with the “fear of dying,” Ornish notes, he wants “to inspire a new vision of the joy of living, convincing them they can feel better, not just live longer.”

His personalized lifestyle program, The Ornish Spectrum, focuses on four lifestyle elements – what we eat, how we manage stress (including yoga, meditation or other practices), our fitness level (walking just a half hour a day makes a big difference), and “most importantly,” he says “on how much love and support you have.”

During the 1990s, Ornish made headlines for overseeing the healthcare of former president Bill Clinton, who, following several heart bypasses, launched a vegan, plant-based diet under Ornish’s guidance. Ornish discusses the regimen he created in 1993 for Hillary, Bill and the chefs at the White House, Camp David and Air Force One, in his book, The Spectrum. For more on the Ornish Spectrum program, see the inspiring video with Dean Ornish at the bottom of this page.

Ornish’s Cutting Edge Research on Lifestyle Changes for Well-being:

  • Reversal of Heart Disease. Ornish developed a program for reversing heart disease, including yoga for stress management, which is now covered by Medicare. It was the first program scientifically proven to reverse heart disease without drugs or surgery. This outpatient program, is a non-invasive treatment option that combines four components to slow, stop and even reverse the progression of coronary artery disease.

  • Stop Prostate Cancer. He conducted the first randomized controlled trial demonstrating that comprehensive lifestyle changes may stop or reverse the progression of prostate cancer. Comprehensive lifestyle changes, his research showed, may even affect gene expression, “turning on” disease-preventing genes and “turning off” genes that promote cancer and heart disease.

  • Relieve Depression. Ornish’s research showed that patients with depression and metabolic syndrome were able to make significant progress after adopting intensive diet and lifestyle changes. In fact, 73% of patients with depressive symptoms became non-depressed after only 12 weeks, with both men and women showing similar improvements in depression.

Listen to Dean Ornish describe his Spectrum program in the inspiring video below.

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