Barbara Waxman is the leading authority on Middlescence and a passionate advocate for aging, wisdom, and thriving in midlife. Her mission is to shift cultural norms around aging by establishing Middlescence as a unique life stage. Barbara is the founder of Odyssey Group Coaching, which aims to help middlescents thrive personally and professionally. She is one of the only Gerontologist-coaches in the United States. Here are her thoughts on the field of Lifestyle Medicine:
What made you interested in Lifestyle Medicine?
The truth is that my interest in Lifestyle Medicine stems from a painful experience back in 1999. My daughter, Jill, was 8 years old and was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. We spent about a year having her see specialists (in traditional western medicine) while also trying a number of other drug therapies. None were successful. At the point surgery was recommended we decided to suspend our disbelief and research ‘alternative’ options. This was over twenty years ago, before Lifestyle Medicine was on the map.
I learned the importance of integrating ancient wisdom with newfound approaches. I fully immersed myself into into learning everything I could about integrative medicine and the important role it can play in health maintenance. I’m happy to report that it worked! A combination of modalities resolved Jill’s disease and she is now 31 and in full health.
Just a few years later I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s (an autoimmune disorder of the thyroid). It motivated me to develop tools for myself and my clients to better understand the cornerstone principles of energy and health. I learned that lifestyle is medicine. My involvement with the American College of Lifestyle Medicine; Stanford Lifestyle Medicine and more, was born out of these experiences.
What is your main career focus?
As a gerontologist and professional leadership coach I focus on working with adults, midlife and better. Think of me as a leadership and life stage expert supporting people to have more clarity, joy and impact in their lives. I deliver on that mission through coaching, speaking, advising and workshops.
What are the key findings from Lifestyle Medicine coaching?
Every client I work with takes an initial assessment of their overall wellbeing; this is based on the principles of lifestyle medicine. One of the key findings that I share is an understanding of how energy needs to be understood to maximize one’s feelings of empowerment, clarity and the ability to have impact. Our prevailing culture emphasizes quick fixes to problems that can be resolved in sustainable ways with shifts in daily habits and rituals. For example, understanding the sleep one needs is foundational to having sustainable clarity and resourcefulness throughout the day. I regularly share the idea that one’s most valuable currency is not money or time—it’s the energy one brings to the time available. Lifestyle medicine is not about avoiding death but about living your best life.
What are your top three recommendations for improving lifestyle?
Invest in the relationships that fuel you and divest yourself of those that deplete you (to the extent possible).
In the words of Michael Pollan: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Do one kind thing for someone or something in service to others daily.
What’s your favorite Lifestyle Medicine practice in your own life?
Breathing in nature, even if it’s sometimes only stepping outside my front door, is cleansing and clarifying. Taking moments of reflection and emptying my mind every single day is one of my top picks.