Is it possible to slow down ageing?! How can we give ourselves the best possible chance to live a long and healthy life?
Dr Alka Patel believes that our health is a ‘skill’ and is not something we’re just given; it’s something we have to work at.
Katie spoke with Alka on The Latte Lounge podcast to find out how we can all make compassionate lifestyle changes for a happy, healthy and long life.
Listen to the full conversation in The Latte Lounge podcast episode above.
Alka talks about the concept that health is a skill rather than something we ‘have’ and how we can take responsibility for our own wellbeing.
She also takes us through the 9 hallmarks of ageing and explains how, with lifestyle changes, we can not only slow down but actually reverse the ageing process.
Most people want health, don't they? We want health, but it's a bit like, I want that dress, or I want that car, or I want that ice cream.
It's very easy to objectify it and think of health as something that you just have. When I started my medical career as a GP 25 years ago, I remember thinking that too. I thought I could just give people their health.
Early on in my career, patients would come to see me, they'd drop their health into my lap, and then they'd ask me to fix it, which I'd do, and then I'd hand it back. And when I think about what that fix was, usually that fix came in the form of a pill or maybe two or maybe three.
Before I knew it, I'd become what I now describe as a drug pusher doctor because that's what I was taught in medical school. Of course, there's lots more to it, but what we are taught is to find the very quickest fix we can for the greatest number of people.
The pharmaceutical industry picks up on this, and you end up with this healthcare system that's really largely based on drug interventions, pharmaceutical interventions.
You can't fix health with a supply of pills because health isn't something you have; it is something that you do. I talk about that in the terminology of a skill because we've all got skills, and we've all learned something and practised it and got better and better at it.
Whether it was your first bike that you rode or playing the piano, we've all got memories of that, and we can do this with our health as well. It's all about taking action.
It's all about getting to the root of health, which is all about self-care.
My approach is about empowering people to take personal responsibility for their health, and not just responsibility from a sort of place of heaviness, but cherishing ownership of your health.
I create smart self-care for my clients, looking at their healthcare and looking at their health challenges across a number of things. Whether you want to sleep better, stop sugar cravings, support through the menopause or reverse diabetes or high blood pressure, or you want to reverse ageing, take a really smart approach to self-care.
Moving from that drug pusher doctor to more of a sort of data-driven doctor has resulted in amazing transformations.
The biggest problem that I see when it comes to conversations about ageing is that most people believe that ageing is inevitable.
But there's a problem with having that sort of fixed belief. And the problem is that you resign to it. You take a very passive approach to it. But ageing and getting older are two very different things.
Absolutely we all get older. That is inevitable. There is nothing we can do about the tick of that chronological clock.
But ageing is very different. Ageing is biology; it's physiology, it’s cells and chromosomes.
There are nine hallmarks of ageing that occur at a very much biological level.
I do have an acronym for the First Nine Hallmarks of Aging. And that spells out the word time stamps. There are actually twelve now; 3 were added recently.
Listen for more on the 9 hallmarks of ageing.
I keep going back to the science. If you know what's going on, you'll find your perfect starting point. If you look at genes, there are lots of genes that are also involved in longevity.
So you need to really be thinking about how to switch on your anti-ageing genes.
How are you going to up-regulate the genes that you need and down-regulate the ones that you don't?
A good starting point is food. We talk a lot about food, but most people are thinking about what to eat.
And I want to divert everyone's attention today on when to eat. And I say this specifically because when you eat directly affects your longevity genes.
Fasting and intermittent fasting are something a lot of people will have come across.
I like to call it connected time, connected eating.
Eating within a timeframe, a time window that you feel connected to that fits with your rhythm.
By choosing a time to start eating and stop eating, the genes that you need to repair your DNA are activated. This is so important, and also what happens is that Pacman comes out to play.
This little process is called autophagy, where you are chomping up all the cells that are not doing the job that they're meant to do.
They're not functioning so well. You're recycling all your proteins and all of that expands your lifespan massively.
If this is new to you, think about what feels really comfortable.
Have a fixed time for that first mouthful of something to go into your mouth and have a fixed time for that last mouthful. Start with something easy. 12 hours is relatively easy.
Extend that by half an hour every couple of weeks. 8 - 10 hours is a good aim.
You're doing it actively to take control of your health, to actually be in charge of your physiology.
You can control your genes; you really do have the power to change things. So go with the mindset that this is a purposeful decision and let it be part of your rhythm.
Yes, you can. I test biological ageing in all of my clients, which is amazing because you get your biological number, your cellular age.
And once you know that, you can then start to look at what's going on in your lifestyle that's going to reverse it. And then reassess.
So you've got something concrete that tells you whether what you are doing is working for you or not working for you.
What to eat is important as well. There's so much we could talk about, but the one thing when it comes specifically to longevity and ageing is sugar.
The most important thing to avoid is sugar spikes, the highs and then the lows. I wear a continuous glucose monitor.
Not because I have diabetes or I need insulin, but because I want to understand my own body and how I respond to different fuels.
So this is how you use technology that is now accessible to your advantage because sugar's really important. Glucose shuts off those genes that I mentioned.
So, eat less often, and kill the sugar. Then think about that plant slant to your food choices.
Amplify your antioxidants so that you've got all those defence mechanisms in place. And I think it's worth talking a little bit about supplements as well because the research on supplements and longevity is incredible.
My usual approach to supplements is very much what I've alluded to, test, treat, and track.
Don’t just blindly walk into a health food shop or go online and fill up your trolley, but really think about what you need.
You need to start by eating colourful fruits and vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats.
The word is supplement. This is not a replacement; it is supplementary to those lifestyle shifts, how you eat, what you eat and when you eat.
That comes first, but you are adding a layer because we don't really know the quality of our food.
We don't always know what we're getting from every chomp that we take.
Be very purposeful about why you are taking them.
We talked a little bit about food, but exercise plays a huge part as well.
What’s interesting about exercise when it comes to ageing is you need to think about the Goldilocks effect.
Not too much that it actually is a stress or significant stressor, because actually exercise is a stress on the body, but enough so that it is a positive stress because you can use stress to your advantage.
If you want to build an exercise habit, how do you do that? Because a lot of people start something and stop it.
Use that phrase - when I, I will. When I wake up in the morning, I will do 10 stretches. When I come home from work, I will go for a four-minute run. When I turn on my computer every morning, I take six slow deep breaths.
I know what that's doing for me from a nervous system, positive perspective, but I would forget.
I turn on my computer every day, so why not just chainmail it on top?
Interestingly, there's also emotions.
So a bit of research was done at Yale University, and what they found is that if you are optimistic and you feel good about yourself as you get older, you add seven and a half years to your life. That’s phenomenal!
When something seems really difficult, just ask yourself, how can I look at this in a different way?
There is similar data on purpose.
If you have a reason for getting out of bed every morning, you are adding seven years to your life, so when you wake up, and your feet touch the floor, know why you're getting out of bed today. Set it with a purpose.
Connectedness increases longevity.
This is super important. Do you feel like you don't belong or like a machine with missing parts because your kind of identity has just got lost as a mother, wife, or daughter?
When you're feeling that, who can you reach out to, to increase that connectedness?
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Women through midlife don't always necessarily connect what they're going through to the menopause or the perimenopause. So if something's not right, then what could be going on?
It’s important to get the right support, whether that's around HRT or whether that's around specific changes in your lifestyle that are going to support that.
The tide is definitely, definitely turning because it has to. I think there's always been this sense of lifestyle but not knowing what to do with it.
And it also needs a bigger shift in terms of how GP surgeries are set up now.
Time has always been the hardest thing; in 10-minute appointments, it's really hard to be able to have those lifestyle interventions at the forefront.
So that really needs a shift in terms of being able to spend time, really deep diving into what matters.
I remember my traditional GP time; I'd know everything about my patients because we built that rapport.
We got to know each other. I knew where their children went to school. I knew where they were going on holiday.
But the one thing I never, ever knew to ask was, what matters to you? What's important to you?
Because that's your motivation for making lifestyle changes.
The pill might feel like the easiest, quickest thing to do, but if you've got high blood pressure, then how long can you take those high blood pressure pills without a knock-on effect?
I don't have high blood pressure, but I'm wearing a blood pressure monitor on my wrist. Because I'm taking charge. I want to know about myself, and I want to feel good.
Lifestyle medicine is now starting to appear on medical curricula. We've got people being trained in lifestyle medicine at an educational level as well.
Make health fun. I've been laughing and smiling through this whole conversation with you, and at the same time, I know I'm doing something for my health.
I've been standing at a standing desk. We've been connecting. I'm now doing these crazy dumbbells as well. We have to have fun with our health; otherwise, it's too heavy.
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