Sara Spalding is from London but has lived in the Algarve for 18 years. In addition to being a lifestyle medicine practitioner, she is also a traditional nurse and has been working with eating disorder patients for many years.

During that time, she became even more aware of the role nutrition plays in our bodies. That's why she studied more about it until she became a lifestyle medicine practitioner.

If you're not familiar with this term, lifestyle medicine is “an internationally recognised new branch of medicine that runs alongside with conventional medicine and is based on hundreds of years of research”, she said. In addition, lifestyle medicine is based on the following six pillars:

Nutrition

This is the most important pillar. “It’s just incredible the influence of food on our bodies. However, it’s underestimated, and in the medical world, doctors nowadays only get a couple of hours of training in nutrition when they are students”, she said, adding that each year, “18 million people die globally from heart disease, which is caused by a poor lifestyle”.

Now, you might be wondering, what diet should we follow to keep you on track? Well, according to Sara, the best diet proven to reverse many of the chronic diseases is the whole-food, plant-based diet. And following a plant-based diet doesn't mean we have to go vegan, as Sara explains, if we eat 80 percent plant-based then it would make a huge difference in our bodies.

Exercise

“Exercise is essential in order to maintain a healthy weight but also for conditioning of the body. For example, insulin sensitivity is influenced by exercise”, she said.

Of course, each person is an individual and the type of exercise that suits us best may be different depending on “physical condition, weight, hours available to devote to exercise and ability. That’s why we have personal trainers to assess and create a programme for that person”, she said.

Sara, who is also a personal trainer, told me that exercise for seniors - in lifestyle medicine - is used to maintain muscle mass because once people lose it they will be more exposed to the dangers of breaking a bone, for example, which, in some cases, can lead to death or a huge loss of quality of life.

Sleep

In terms of sleep, there's no need to explain that getting a good night's sleep every night has many benefits - everyone knows it. However, when it comes to sleep, there is something particularly important that people sometimes, especially the younger generations, usually miss.

For healthy sleep, you need a regular sleep pattern, preferably between seven and eight hours a night, but if you can't, you should “always try to have the roughly the same number of hours a sleep per night. So, for example, a lot of people that are working will not have enough hours a sleep during the week and then they sleep longer over the weekend, but the body doesn’t like it, the body likes consistency and routine. So try to get to bed roughly at the same time every night and try wake up roughly at the same time every morning”, she said.

“Another interesting thing is that people with diabetes will find that if they don’t sleep well their blood sugar levels are less controlled because sleep can influence our insulin sensitivity”, Sara added.

Stress

Stress has been called the “21st Century Health Epidemic” by the WHO, which explains many of the problems it brings. One of them is heart problems, as they can trigger strokes and other heart diseases.

“Stress as we know has ill effects on the physiology and my role as a lifestyle medicine practitioner is to basically know when I need to refer people on, for example, to a psychologist to help them to control and reverse the damages that stress has caused”, she said.

Social isolation

If sometimes being alone can be great to clarify ideas, on the other hand, it can be harmful, especially for the elderly, as it can lead to huge depressions. In fact, this topic has never been discussed as much as it is now.

This is a very complicated subject, “even taking Covid-19 out of equation. I’ve spent many years as community nurse caring for elderly people that are living in isolation and it is just heart breaking”. Also, “it’s been proven that social isolation can have a negative effect on longevity rates”.

Giving up of harmful habits

Harmful substances such as alcohol and tobacco are toxic to our bodies, but are tempting to thousands of people who drink and smoke every day. The role of lifestyle medicine is to help those people, through a programme, to find a way to reduce or give up of these substances. Some techniques currently used are medication, coaching, meditation or yoga, among others.

According to Sara: “When people drink alcohol, they find they need to urinate more frequently. Part of the reasons is that the kidneys are struggling with a lot of toxins and of course the liver will also be in panic to try to get rid of the alcohol”.

If you would like to know more about lifestyle medicine and get in touch with Sara, please have a look at https://healthyheartalgarve.business.site/