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Stress, More Dangerous Than Tobacco, Alcohol - Dr. Emeka Onyedika

Nigerian-American US-based Medical Doctor and Founder of Cratix Life, Dr. Emeka Onyedika, speaks on the relationship between lifestyle adoptions, especially regular physical exercise and optimal health

Dr. Emeka Onyedika is the founder of Cratix Life / Photo credit: Dr. Onyedika
Dr. Emeka Onyedika is the founder of Cratix Life / Photo credit: Dr. Onyedika

Nigerian-American US-based Medical Doctor and Founder of Cratix Life, Dr. Emeka Onyedika, speaks on the relationship between lifestyle adoptions, especially regular physical exercise and optimal health…

Poor lifestyle choices are usually blamed for quite a number of chronic diseases; do you also agree with this; and why?                                          
It is accepted knowledge that poor lifestyle choices such as eating unhealthy foods and being sedentary lead to chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. However, my experience in the field and treating patients has shown me that many people indulge in these practices and remain relatively healthy.

After doing my own research, I have identified stress as a common cause among all chronic diseases. Management of stress is the best way to achieve and maintain health. I believe if we all learned to manage our stress effectively and consistently, this alone will make us healthier and recent findings in medical research supports this.

Practising lifestyle medicine must be quite challenging as most people are usually reluctant to change their routines; how do get your patients to acquiesce?

The first and most important step is to get to know the patient as an individual. Unfortunately, we as a health care community do a poor job of this. Though factors such as time and location can negatively affect the ability to do this, I believe it is essential for true patient care.

I now make sure to ask questions of every patient I see that will allow me to learn about their background, beliefs, daily routines, etc.  With that information I can then tailor the conversation and recommendations specifically to them instead of sharing general guidelines.

This allows the patient to see how they can practically add the new practices to their regular routine and has dramatically increased the likelihood of them performing them. I also believe they appreciate and enjoy the fact that I include them in the discussion and show a true interest in them instead of just lecturing

Between alcohol and tobacco, which is more injurious to one’s health?                                       

It depends on the person and the situation. There are many people that use either or both regularly and do not experience any negative impact on their health. I believe the more important factor and contributor to health status is the reason why the individual decided to start smoking or drinking and why she/he continues to do so. For instance, if it is to manage stress and anxiety then the root cause of this should be explored first in order to determine the actual impact of the practices on the individual - health and otherwise

What does lifestyle counseling entail?                       

I have not been trained in lifestyle medicine and I can not speak for my colleagues who have been. My counseling focuses on identifying the personal cause of the medical condition or conditions each person I see is experiencing and guiding them as they create strategies and practices that work for them in order to address them.

Doing so allows them to take control of their health management and begin to reduce their need for prescription medicines and other standard therapies that solely manage symptoms rather than the ailments themselves.

Spending minutes each day doing simple exercises at home while watching television or in the kitchen while preparing a meal can significantly improve health status.

With your experience what do you think usually lead people to poor lifestyle choices?    

Typically it’s been misunderstanding - either of what individuals are capable of or of what practices are beneficial to them. For instance, many believe they can not exercise regularly because they can’t afford to join a gym or they feel they are too busy.

Therefore they resort to a sedentary lifestyle because they feel they have no other choice. However, spending minutes each day doing simple exercises at home while watching television or in the kitchen while preparing a meal can significantly improve health status.

We often think things need to be complex or demand substantial effort in order to make a difference or be helpful. Thankfully, this is not true. We all have the ability to manage our own health and not rely solely on medications and other therapies. Individuals just have to choose to do so.

How exactly do lifestyle physicians treat patients? 

Since I am not a trained lifestyle physician, I can not accurately answer this. I focus more on mindset and mindfulness for my treatment strategies than lifestyle physicians. I have identified stress as the root cause for many diseases or conditions afflicting individuals I have seen or consulted or as a barrier to taking actions to improve health and wellness.

Once an individual has an empowering mindset, she/he will be more likely to incorporate healthy habits into their life and regular routine and their stress level will also greatly diminish - further supporting their health. Typically this is enough to begin to manage medical conditions without medications or continue to prevent the need for treatment with medications.

However, if supportive management with medications or other traditional therapies is warranted for the indivdual’s case, it will be used. My treatment strategies are based on each individual patient case, not on general guidelines.

I have met and treated multiple people in their late 80s and into their 90s who are younger and healthier than 40 or 50-year-olds I meet. The common characteristic among all of them has been their commitment to regular exercise and their ability to practice it over many years.

What’s the relationship between lifestyle medicine and concierge medicine?

At least here in the US, there is no relationship between the two. Concierge medicine is an alternative approach to conducting medical business (patients have individual memberships with the doctor or health care professional and pay out of pocket rather than through insurance plans).

Lifestyle medicine is a different philosophy to treatment and assessment of patients and medical conditions. Concierge physicians can practice lifestyle medicine if they choose to and lifestyle physicians can set up concierge medicine services at their discretion.

Is regular exercise as beneficial as it’s been portrayed?

In my experience, regular exercise (along with proper stress management) is one of the most important factors for long lasting health. Regular exercise has been shown to benefit mental and physical health which leads to improvement in overall well being.

I have met and treated multiple people in their late 80s and into their 90s who are younger and healthier than 40 or 50-year-olds I meet. The common characteristic among all of them has been their commitment to regular exercise and their ability to practice it over many years.

What is your opinion of Nigerians foods; any one in particular you would warn your patient to avoid?

I personally believe too much emphasis is placed on foods and nutrition in relation to health. Everybody’s body is different. One type of food may be beneficial to one person and hazardous to another. It is best to eat home cooked meals made with whole natural foods instead of ready made processed foods.

Each individual should find the best foods for them instead of just following general guidelines. Therefore, I personally am not comfortable recommending anyone avoid any particular food that is cooked and prepared well until I can determine what foods and nutrients are best for them individually. Thankfully, recent medical research is developing techniques for this to be done accurately.

How financially rewarding is practicing lifestyle medicine; do you think it can pay off in a country like Nigeria?

Consistent and long-standing financial reward is based on value provided. Once an individual or company proves their value, the rewards will follow based on the significance of the value to those being served. There is tremendous value to practicing lifestyle medicine in Nigeria or any where else in the world.

I can personally attest to this. Many people are looking for a doctor who focuses on their individual needs first, looks for the cause of their condition rather than just managing symptoms and works with them to create a treatment plan that often doesn’t require them to spend any money or additional time.

The health benefits and enhancement of overall well-being are priceless so there is no shortage to people willing to pay for such services. This is exactly the work I am doing with my clients. I look forward to other healthcare professionals around the world joining me.

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