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FOCUS: The lifestyle doctor will see you now...

FOCUS: The lifestyle doctor will see you now...

Friday 24 March 2023

FOCUS: The lifestyle doctor will see you now...

Friday 24 March 2023


A local doctor has shared how she became involved in a different type of medicine after tiring of "spending more and more time prescribing medications to people without them feeling any better".

To some, 'lifestyle medicine' may sound fluffy, but it's based on the sound principle that good eating, good sleeping and good relationships make for a healthy individual.

Jo Darwood has over two decades of experience in medicine, including 15 years as a GP, and launched 'Inspired Life' to help “educate and inspire people to make powerful change in their lives”.

She spoke to Express about how she discovered lifestyle medicine, implemented it in her own life, and how it can help you...

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Pictured: Jo has been a GP for the past 15 years.

What is lifestyle medicine?

It's an evidence based medical speciality which focuses on the whole person, rather than just their illness.

It separates a person's life into six main areas: what they eat, how they move, their mental health, their sleep, their relationships, and any unhealthy habits.

It acknowledges that we cannot be truly healthy if only one or two of these areas are paid attention to. Probably 65% of the problems people bring to their GP are related, in some way, to their lifestyle and so it make sense that, rather than medicating them, we look at how they could improve their lifestyles - whether that's by looking at diet, mental health, their work-life balance or how they sleep, etc.

When did you first hear about it and what convinced you to focus on this?

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Pictured: Jo said, as a GP, she felt frustrated to prescribe more medications to her patients without them feeling "any better".

I've always been fascinated by people's lives and their stories… and equally frustrated feeling that, as a GP, I was spending more and more time prescribing medications to people without them feeling any better. It felt that I was just monitoring their results (their sugar levels, or their blood pressure etc) but not truly helping them feel well. Then, during the pandemic, it became apparent that these were the people who were especially vulnerable to the effects of covid.

I happened upon a course on lifestyle medicine, and the more I studied, the more I realised that, not only was my own lifestyle not as balanced as it could be, but that Lifestyle Medicine could be the solution to almost all the health issues I was seeing that were proving the most difficult to improve.

Pictured: Jo Darwood launched Inspired Life Jersey to help “educate and inspire people to make powerful change in their lives”.

However, it's not a quick solution, you can't just prescribe a tablet to fix this. With 10-minute GP appointments, where we often try to address several problems at once, it's almost impossible to give impactful advice and sadly there wasn't really a service locally that could help with that holistic approach. We have some really excellent services, and some not so excellent ones. But there's nothing looking at the entirety of a person's health and their community.

So, I thought I'd try to provide this and see if what I was learning and practicing (my family being my first "patients" or as my six-year-old might phrase it "victim") would work for everyone. And it does.

What did you change in your lifestyle and what kind of benefits did you experience?

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Pictured: As a keen runner, Jo said lifestyle changes helped her shave 20 minutes off her previous marathon time.

I first started changing my own diet and fairly quickly noticed I was losing those stubborn kilos that had clung on since my son was born - although, I'll admit that as a yoyo dieter, I probably can't entirely blame him!

I also stopped exercising so hard, and instead focused on exercising smarter. To my astonishment, as a strictly back-of-the-pack runner, I started getting faster. Almost every run was a personal best and I took 20 minutes off my previous best marathon time, despite training significantly less and being a whole decade older.

My husband noticed (got jealous!) and started to follow suit and tells me he feels much better for it too.

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Pictured: Jo said her family cut has down the processed foods it eats "significantly".

A harder nut to crack was my six-year-old son. I've always been pretty aware of what he was eating, making sure he ate not just a good volume of veg, but a good variety. However, like many parents, I failed to recognise that he wasn't perhaps eating as much protein as he should (protein is vital for bones, muscles and brains), instead filling him up on sandwiches and pasta.

It was also surprising how easy it was for processed snacks and allegedly healthy foods to sneak into his lunchbox when I was tired or busy. We've managed to cut the processed foods significantly but it's very difficult persuading a six-year-old that a "treat" is a once-a-week thing, not an everyday one. I'm worried that when he will start becoming more aware of what his friends are eating, he'll think I'm a very cruel mum indeed! At least I don't worry about him being active enough, as a very busy boy he likes nothing more than a rampage around the woods, getting disgustingly muddy with the dog.

How do you apply lifestyle medicine to different patients?

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Pictured: For some people, lifestyle medicine will involve addressing their work-life balance.

The wonderful thing about lifestyle medicine is that there's no "one size fits all" answer. It recognises that we are all individuals with our own lives, living in very different versions of our community.

For some, it's simple advice on what a healthy diet might look like for them (spoiler alert: it's very rarely what we're told by the food companies, media or even some health guidelines), and for others it's looking at their work-life balance — there's no point in knowing what to eat and how to exercise if life is so busy you have no time to implement it.

For some, we need to work on their sleep before anything else can be addressed. And increasingly, I am seeing that it can be addiction to food, or alcohol, that undermine everything else. Some people come and see me once and they're able to follow through on their journey, others need to come many times.

What are the main benefits of lifestyle medicine?

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Pictured: Jo says lifestyle medicine is "side-effect free and safe".

It is side-effect free and safe — something I absolutely couldn't guarantee with lots of the drug treatments prescribed.

What is beneficial for one condition is often beneficial for many more. For example, the diet that can reverse Type 2 diabetes can also reduce your risk of dementia and heart disease while helping you sleep better. Lots of women will also find the lifestyle changes that help with menopause symptoms also improve arthritic pains and migraines.

It helps shift the focus from disease management and monitoring to health and life improvement.

What conditions can lifestyle medicine help with?

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Pictured: "Lifestyle medicine can reduce your risk of having many conditions but also improve, or sometimes even completely resolve, them once you have them," Jo said.

It's almost easier to think of those that it won't.

Lifestyle medicine can reduce your risk of having many conditions but also improve, or sometimes even completely resolve, them once you have them.

The list includes: diabetes, heart disease, strokes, dementia, infections (including coughs and colds, urinary infections, pneumonia and COVID), many cancers, fertility problems, painful periods, polycystic ovaries, menopause symptoms, osteoporosis, arthritis, irritable bowel disease, inflammatory bowel disease, acid reflux, constipation, autoimmune disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, liver and kidney diease, chronic pain conditions and obesity. It is also very useful for mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and ADHD.

I am not saying that medications are unnecessary, sometimes they are vital, but often people will find that they can reduce the dose or number of medications they need or even better, stop themselves needing them in the first place.

This article first featured on Bailiwick Wellbeing, your free guide to wellness in work and island life to help you start the weekend - and week ahead - in the right way. Sign up now here.

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