The PA Experience at ACLM 2021: Lettuce Discuss Benefits of Lifestyle Medicine

Laura Ross, PA-C, details her experiences at the American College of Lifestyle Medicine conference and the role of lifestyle modification as a cornerstone of cardiovascular risk management.

Have you wondered if it is possible to significantly improve cardiovascular risk factors without medications? The answer is a definite “yes” after my recent attendance at the annual conference of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM), which took place November 7-10. I have practiced in cardiology as a physician assistant since 2004 and was interested in learning more about ways to improve the overall health of patients during this stressful time of a pandemic, not just their more urgent cardiac issues.

Lifestyle Medicine is the use of evidence-based lifestyle therapeutic approaches, such as a whole-food, plant-predominant dietary lifestyle, regular physical activity, adequate sleep, stress management, avoiding use of risky substances, and pursuing other non-drug modalities, to treat, reverse, and prevent chronic disease. Some important lessons learned from ACLM 2021 that I will be incorporating into my practice include methods for motivational interviewing with patients, how to get reimbursed for group visits for lifestyle education, how decreasing animal consumption can positively impact climate change, the science of sleep, and inspiring research projects like bringing successful virtual nutrition visits to areas in New York where 90% live below the poverty line.

Burnout is a cloud that can block out some of the sun of enjoyment from clinical practice, and I was ready to gain some new tools and insight to benefit the whole team (myself included). ACLM 2021 shed light on ways to address some of the root causes of chronic disease.Most clinicians are familiar with the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and American Heart Associations’ prevention guidelines, outlining the cornerstone of treatment is first working on lifestyle changes. I discovered the impressive ways that ACLM shows clinicians how to implement these long-lasting strategies for patients. 

These actions can treat, reverse, and prevent chronic disease. It was so inspiring to learn about the science behind these strategies as I learned more about ACLM’s mission over the last year, that I started a plant forward pilot program, the HeartBeet clinic, in partnership with our employee wellness program. We were surprised to find that not only cholesterol and blood pressure statistically improved, but so did sleep, mood and energy when supported by the pillars of Lifestyle Medicine. It was a career highlight to present our HeartBeet clinic pilot findings at ACLM2021. ACLM is inclusive and it was wonderful to hear experts that were doctors, PAs, NPs, dieticians, health coaches, PhD researchers as well as thought leader giants like Neal Barnard MD, Dean Ornish MD, and David Katz MD, PhD. The ACLM community is very supportive and I look forward to attending again next year – I hope you can join me!