Blue Zones, an organization that studies regions around the world where people live longer, happier lives, has partnered with The American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM) to help train and certify health care professionals. 

The “Blue Zones certification” for doctors and health care workers will add another layer to ACLM certification, which already confers lifestyle medicine training around six pillars: whole-food, plant-rich diet; exercise, sleep; stress management; social connection; and avoiding substance misuse. The new designation will require prior certification from the ACLM, the American Board of Lifestyle Medicine (ABLM), or the International Board of Lifestyle Medicine (IBLM), according to the May 14 announcement.

“ACLM and Blue Zones have a shared vision of building healthier, stronger, more resilient communities,” said ACLM Executive Director Susan Benigas of the partnership.

That’s only possible, said Benigas, “if the physicians and medical professionals in those communities have been trained in both evidence-based lifestyle medicine clinical intervention and really understanding the principles of blue zones.”

CEO of Blue Zones Ben Leedle said Blue Zones has been at the forefront of creating meaningful, population-level well-being improvement resulting in healthier, happier communities as well as millions in health care savings, improved productivity, and regional economic impact. 

“Meanwhile, ACLM has been driving the field of lifestyle medicine forward for the past 2 decades, working to transform health care from within hospital and clinic walls,” Leedle said in a statement. “This partnership represents a paradigm shift by combining the power of lifestyle medicine with community driven well-being improvement.”

 

 

 

Kerry Graff, MD, a lifestyle medicine doctor and medical director of the Rochester Lifestyle Medicine Institute in New York, says she was “thrilled” to learn about the ACLM and Blue Zones partnership and that she plans to be among the first group of doctors applying for the new certification. 

“This is a really great powerhouse combo,” Graff said. “I see this as really the next piece of what needs to happen to move [lifestyle medicine] forward.” 

Doctors are often handicapped by the fact that they know what makes patients healthier, but they’re up against a community where factors align to promote poor habits rather than healthy ones, Graff said.  

“It certainly makes a lot more sense to look at this on a broader level, community level, and not just an individual patient level,” she said. 

Studies have long shown the positive impacts that lifestyle choices can have on long-term health and disease prevention. A recent analysis, for example, found that while genetic risk is tied to an increased death risk of 21%, an “unfavorable lifestyle” poses a 78% higher risk of death, independent of genetic factors. 

A “favorable lifestyle” based on things like sleep, diet, and physical activity can offset genetic predispositions by as much as 62%, the study found

The curriculum for the new certification is still under development but is slated to be available in 2025, according to Michelle Tollefson, MD, a lifestyle medicine doctor in Colorado and lead faculty for the Blue Zones training. 

“The curriculum will build upon what our ACLM, ABLM, IBLM physicians, and health professionals already know and bring to their patients,” Tollefson said. “They already have that foundation, but then we added an additional layer of the Blue Zones research and that deep community focus, which will empower our lifestyle medicine physicians and health professionals to have more of a widespread impact in their communities beyond the clinical setting.”

In addition to the new certification opportunity, Blue Zones will now be an exclusive founding partner of ACLM’s Center for Lifestyle Medicine Innovation, a new hub ACLM is establishing for research, innovation, thought leadership, and knowledge sharing. 

ACLM will offer practice advancement consulting to health systems integrating lifestyle medicine in Blue Zones communities, leveraging the college’s clinical practice tools and health systems resources. Since 2021, 108 health systems have joined the ACLM’s Health System Council, a group of innovative health organizations from 37 states dedicated to providing high-value care through lifestyle medicine, according to the ACLM.  

Doctors and health professionals interested in lifestyle medicine certification can learn more on the ACLM website. Since 2017, the college has certified about 6,700 clinicians, including 5,000 doctors and 1,700 health professionals. 

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