Sunday 22 January 2017

Dr Ciara Kelly opens up about her personal health journey

Karl Henry

Published 29/11/2016 | 02:30

Dr Ciara Kelly. Photo: David Conachy
Dr Ciara Kelly. Photo: David Conachy

Operation Transformation's Dr Ciara Kelly talks about her own health journey.

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What does health mean to you?

I guess to me, health is a collective term referring to our general physical and mental well-being, but it’s also influenced by environment, lifestyle and diet. Health is important because it’s about how we feel and how long we live, but also how well we live. There’s no point in living long without being healthy.

Tell us about your own health journey...

I’m pretty healthy — I don’t have any illnesses yet. So I’m not on medication and I’m lucky enough to feel very well and energetic. I am actually starting to feel lucky about that, as I know people my own age and younger who do have health problems and it’s very difficult for them. I watch what I eat and drink though, and I try to keep active and maintain a healthy weight. I don’t smoke and I drink alcohol in moderation, so I do make healthy choices but I don’t live like a monk. I like to enjoy life but make healthy choices. 

How can families stay healthier?

I think the easiest way is to avoid too much processed food, and try and keep an eye on portion sizes. And the big one is to keep active. Do stuff together, don’t just sit on the couch or indeed allow the kids to stare at screens all day. Get out and walk, get a dog if that will make you do it. Basically eat less, move more. Regarding mental health, talk, talk, talk. Families need to communicate — it’s not all about physical health, the mind needs nourishment too.

Does social media have a role to play in health?

I think it can have both a positive and a negative effect on mental health. Social media can be quite anxiety-inducing, but equally it can be a source of support for people too. From a physical health point of view, it can be a good way of arranging meet ups and motivate you but on balance I think it’s a bit of a sink hole, so it often interferes with people’s plans to get healthy and active.

How do you stay healthy with such a hectic work schedule?

I just juggle like a mad thing! I like being busy, I kind of thrive on it so I’m more likely to stay healthy when I am busy. It’s when I’m bored that I pick at biscuits or stop going for a walk. I think just getting into the habit of making healthy choices is important so that no matter what, it becomes second nature to take the stairs, not the lift or eat a salad instead of a breakfast roll.

Should GPs give weight and health advice as part of prescriptions?

Yes I think ideally we should, but I understand the difficulty GPs face. There is huge pressure on time and resources in surgeries now and it isn’t always easy to make time to have long conversations when there’s a full waiting room. Still, I think we need to try.

Who is your health idol?

Apart from you, Karl? One of the people I look up to in the health industry is actually Ben Goldacre. He gives a zero-nonsense, straight-up set of facts around health vaccines, pharma and nutrition, and I do like a no-nonsense approach.

What’s the best piece of health advice you’ve ever received?

Weigh yourself. But also get enough sleep and drink lots of water.

What do you love most about being part of ‘Operation Transformation’?

Seeing the leaders come into their own. They come to us usually at a low ebb, a bit lost in themselves but eight weeks later they leave us so much more confident and happy, with a sense of themselves again. The weight on the scales is the least of it really. They turn from caterpillars into butterflies.

‘Operation Transformation’ starts in January 2017 on RTE 1. Dr Ciara Kelly is a columnist in the Sunday Independent and hosts Alive & Kicking on Newstalk on Sundays

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