“GPs tend to talk too much. We give a lot of advice,” admits Dr Arash Ahmadi from Brisbane’s Racecourse Village Family Practice.
That’s because education is one of the biggest parts of a general practitioner’s job, Ahmadi explains. A lot of the work they do is around preventative medicine, which means encouraging patients to adopt the lifestyle modifications that will keep them healthy.
So what are the golden rules GPs live by – and advise others to follow? To find out, we asked four doctors for the medical advice they think we could all benefit from.
Avoid processed food
“I recommend to everybody to stay away from processed food as much as they can, and to eat as fresh as possible,” says Dr Ahmadi.
That means avoiding frozen or pre-prepared foods – anything that’s ready-made and just needs to be heated up – as well as things like sausages.
“One of the main issues with processed food is the materials they add to the food to keep it fresh or fresh-looking or fresh-tasting – colours, flavours, chemicals,” Ahmadi says. He explains that those additives can cause liver damage and high cholesterol.
He advises patients to “delete your UberEats app, try to cook as much as you can and look at the nutritional panels on the back of foods in the supermarket”. We don’t have to be perfect, he says, “but we’ve got to try”.
And as for whether Ahmadi follows this advice himself? “Absolutely. Nutrition is one of my passions in life.”
Exercise five times a week
“Something I live by and truly believe in is to do some exercise first thing in the morning,” says Dr James Stewart from Southside Medical Practice on the Sunshine Coast. He says the current health guidelines recommend exercising five times a week, for 30-40 minutes per session.
“And that’s at moderate intensity,” Stewart says. “So the way I explain that to my patients is that if you’re going for a walk, you want to not quite be able to finish your sentences because you’re that puffed. Going for a walk where you’re comfortable the whole way is good but not great.”
He says regular exercise will help with weight control, reduce your cardiovascular risk – and do good things for your brain.
“The main benefits from exercise, I feel, is to do with mental health. You get a good release of endorphins and serotonin when you exercise and that leads to an improved mood and sense of wellbeing. So if you exercise in the morning, you’ve got a nice buzz that sets you up for the day.”
An aspirin a day keeps the doctor away (sometimes)
“One piece of advice I tell a lot of patients who are above 65 and at risk of cardiovascular disease is that an aspirin a day keeps the doctor away,” says Dr Hany Eldebeiky from Seymour Medical Clinic.
Eldebeiky says a daily aspirin can help to prevent heart attacks and strokes, something that over-65s are at increased risk of. “A lot of factors contribute to that, like high cholesterol and high blood pressure,” Eldebeiky explains. “So when we take an aspirin, this thins the blood a little bit, which improves the blood pressure and prevents clotting or blood coagulation.”
He is keen to stress, though, that “every individual is different” and that it is very important that you consult with your own GP before taking aspirin, or “any medication” as there are risks as well as benefits. This advice wouldn’t apply to a patient with a history of ulcers, or “someone at risk of stomach bleeding”, for instance, and there are many other people for whom the medication may not be suitable.
But a daily aspirin has worked for him: “I’m not 65, but I take an aspirin a day and because I’m high risk – my dad had his first [heart] attack in his 40s,” Eldebeiky says. “Since I started taking aspirin, I haven’t had anginal or chest pain again.”
Practice meditation and mindfulness
Dr Kelly-Anne Garnier, from QV Medical on Elizabeth Street in Melbourne, believes she “couldn’t live without” meditation and mindfulness. “It’s well known to modulate or reduce the impact of stress,” she says. “It’s something that is evidence-based and effective.”
Garnier says that stress is considered to be inflammatory, which can “put us at risk of a whole cohort of physical and mental ailments”.
“All sorts of inflammatory conditions would be worse with stress: skin diseases, auto-immune diseases. Even things like the risk of heart attack and stroke increase with stress,” she says. “The other impact of stress is sleep disturbance, and we know sleep disturbance is bad for us for all sorts of reasons. And an increased stress level puts us at risk of anxiety, depression and burnout.”
As for how to get started with meditation? “It is as simple as breathing, becoming aware of one’s breath and trying to step outside of oneself and observe oneself,” she says. “But also, importantly, doing this in a non-judgemental fashion. And that’s what takes a little bit of practice – the non-judgement. But there really is no right or wrong way [to do it].”