Dr Alex George on how to live well every day

Virgin Radio

12 May 2021, 10:37

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Love Island legend and A&E doctor Alex George joined the Chris Evans Breakfast Show with Sky to talk about his debut book, Live Well Every Day: Your Plan for a Happy Body and Mind, which is out tomorrow (13th May). 

Alex first came up with the idea for the book three years ago, after being inspired by the patients he saw every day, but he put it on the back burner after he appeared on ITV’s Love Island in 2018. He told Chris, “I was working in A&E in Lewisham where I had been for quite a few years, and I had a message through Instagram - where I only had about 200 followers, I’m not a big person on social media at all - saying, ‘We’d love you to come on the show.’

After initially laughing the idea off, Alex was persuaded by one of his consultants to go to the interview. “I went along to an ITV interview, just for the experience, to be honest. I had a lot of doubts about whether to do the show, but speaking to a lot of my friends and colleagues, they were saying, ‘Just because you're a doctor doesn’t mean you can’t go out there and do something different.’ so I thought, ‘you only get one life, right?’

“There’s a lot of pressure to look a certain way, sometimes on these TV shows, and when I was getting ready for the show, I think I did fall into that a bit. I was training pretty hard, definitely dieting a lot. And I don’t think my lifestyle was particularly healthy, and I reflect on it hopefully quite honestly in the book.

“There is so much pressure for us at the moment, particularly with social media to look at a certain way, and I felt that on the show. Interestingly, I can reflect on that time and think, I might have had the six-pack, but I didn’t feel that healthy and I don't feel good in myself.

“I don’t think that lifestyle creates a feeling of content, of happiness. I was living a very restrictive lifestyle, going to the gym, not seeing my friends, avoiding social occasions where I might eat something that, God forbid, might be seen as ‘unhealthy’. 

“Now I train and I exercise because I want to feel good and I want to be healthy. Of course, it is nice if a t-shirt fits well, but the primary goal is about how you feel and how exercise actually improves your health.”

Live Well Every Day addresses the health challenges of today across three parts and seven chapters. When discussing with Chris what he wanted to achieve with the book, he said, “I reflected on my years at school, and throughout school we are taught about academia about how to achieve grades, but I don’t remember being taught about what matters in nutrition, how to sleep well, how to navigate the world of social media. What is mental health? How to look after your mental health?

“The first chapter is about purpose and passion. In life, it’s so easy to become lost and not know where your direction is. The pandemic has brought that to a head for a lot of people. We’ve been unable to see friends and family, or follow our interests. I really want to help people think, and give them the tools to find their direction in life.

“Anytime in life we can change our direction. If you’re sitting there thinking, ‘do you know what, I’m not doing what I really feel is giving me fulfillment,’ you can change that direction.”

Another aspect that the book focuses on is alcohol, and how it can affect the way we feel. Alex explained, “Alcohol is actually a depressant. And even though when we have a little sip of beer or wine, or whatever our tonic is, we can sometimes feel a bit of a buzz, actually the overall effect can make us feel quite bad about ourselves.

“Something I was particularly interested in the book is the impact on sleep. Some people think, ‘If I have a little drink of alcohol, I’ll fall asleep well’. But alcohol is a sedative. It doesn’t help us sleep, it actually suppresses parts of our brain, so we go into sleep-like states, but we don’t have good quality sleep, where we go through the process of breaking down things that we’ve done in the day, or recharging, so actually we wake the next day up a lot more tired.”

The book also looks at fitness, with Alex using his own parents as an example. “Of course we know the dangers of obesity and things, but there is more to the story than that. My dad is ever so slightly overweight but is very active. He walks miles every day and cycles. My mum, bless her, over the last few years has maybe been a lot more sedentary… a normal weight, by BMI, but a little bit sedentary. And we know that, actually in terms of cardiovascular risk, you’re more at risk if you are sedentary at a normal weight than if you’re slightly overweight but active. Fair play to my mum, she’s addressed, that… she’s joined in with Joe Wicks!”

Alex went on to speak to Chris about the obstacles that modern life creates in staying fit and avoiding being too sedentary. “This is what I wanted to focus on in the book. How do you change that practically? I do it myself. If I’ve got phone calls and meeting calls, I’m like, ‘right, let’s do it on a walk.’ Go out for a stomp. Get outside. Can you have a standing desk rather than a seated desk at work? 

“It’s about creating meaningful habits or change that lasts. We’ve all started a diet or an exercise programme, and then fall out of it. A lot of that is because you need to understand the ‘why’, to believe and understand why you are doing it.” 

The Love Island star also spoke to Chris about the dangers of stress. “Chronic stress can affect your immune system, it can affect your cardiovascular health, and of course it can massively impact on your mental health.”

He explained how to spot the signposts and ways to counteract it. “I think the big thing about stress is recognising, first of all, that you are becoming stressed. It’s actually the biggest part of it. You know, behaviour change, getting a bit snappy, people around you noticing it. And recognising that early is very important. 

“Secondly, have a way to vent and get that stress out. Is that exercise? Is that going for a run, moving? Also, practising self-care. Doing something everyday that is genuinely for you. Not to achieve a task, or progress in your study or work. It’s about doing something for you.”

In February, Alex was appointed Youth Mental Health Ambassador for the Department of Education. The theme of the current Mental Health Awareness Week is nature, and the doctor went on to speak of the benefits of nature and natural light in tackling stress. “Nature is amazing. There are some great studies out there, saying that nature promotes a sense of calm.” 

He also pointed out the importance of talking to others. “Sometimes when we’re feeling stressed, we actually close up. Talk about why you feel stressed. Plan. What can I do to change this? What is in my sphere of influence that I can impact?

“If it’s related to your work and you’re overstretched and overworked, speak to your employer, have a very honest conversation Your bosses don’t want a scenario where you’re burnt out and not able to perform anymore. 

“As humans we are incredible, because we are actually able to forward-plan. We can learn from the past events and plan for the future. The problem is, that big power of thought, of thinking, can be a real big burden for us as well. I’m naturally a worrier. I worry about things that have happened… did I do that well... should I have done that better? And I’m also worrying about the future, rather than being in the present. A lot of stress and anxiety and those pent up feelings that we have are by not actually being present.”

“We talk about breathing exercises, we talk about mindfulness. It’s actually about bringing yourself into the present moment, and alleviating yourself from those quite damaging thoughts.”