aging event for postDuring the Aging Audaciously event, “Prevention Wisdom Kicked up a Notch,” Disruptive Women cohosted with the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program at the Library of Congress last Wednesday, our first speaker Dr. Lisa Nelson talked about the culture change that is necessary to transition from pill-centered treatment to lifestyle-focused prevention.

In the early 1900s, she said, infectious diseases, such as pneumonia, diarrhea, and tuberculosis, were the top three causes of death. To drive down the rates of these diseases, providers prescribed pills and vaccines and public health campaigns were commissioned to spread awareness. These were critically needed and valuable solutions.

Now, however, as we are faced with alarming rates of cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s, which Nelson called “slow-accumulating diseases,” our behaviors, such as diet, exercise and sleep patterns, are the first line or prevention and can be game changers.

It’s the dialogue and mentality, she said, that needs to change. Too often we crave absolutes and definite answers on what to eat, what not to eat, how to exercise and when to sleep.

“Nuance is not something we Americans are great at,” Nelson said. “Nuance doesn’t sell; moderation doesn’t sell.”

Nelson pointed to numerous studies that prove that investing in our minds and bodies, and not just taking medication, will have a vast impact on preventing future illnesses. Nelson used cholesterol reducing pills as an example. Often, people who take these pills tend to see an increase in their cholesterol levels, as they rely too heavily on the treatment and neglect healthy lifestyle behaviors.

One study, according to Nelson, showed that people who are active and remain active are seven times more likely to lead healthy lives than people who aren’t. Findings were similar when it came to diet.

To Nelson, the question we need to ask: “how we can change the culture so it’s less about what can I do with a pill and more about what can I do?”

The second speaker, Dr. Eugenia Victoria Ellis, spoke about the way light and our environment affect circadian rhythms and our ability to sleep well and be healthy. She noted that with electronics so prevalent in today’s society, at all hours of the day, we need to bring sunlight and natural air into work spaces, homes and hospital settings. An architect, Dr. Ellis designs healthy buildings.

The event was moderated by Disruptive Women co-founder Robin Strongin and also featured remarks from Lisa McGovern, Executive Director, Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program of the Prevent Cancer Foundation, and Representative Debbie Dingell.

Dingell spoke about the positive effect personal networks and relationships can have on adopting healthy behaviors.

In addition, during the event, Rep. Dingell was presented with the March Man of the Month t-shirt to give to her husband, retired Congressman John Dingell, who was a life-long advocate for health reform and medical progress.

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