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A one-million-hour life
Alka Patel | General Practitioner
BY PETER BOWES | FRIDAY DECEMBER 30, 2022
As we prepare to welcome 2023, what better time to kick start a new healthy longevity lifestyle. We’re excited at LLAMA to continue our never ending journey of learning, with this inspiring conversation about living for a million hours. Have a wonderful New Year!
Dr. Alka Patel is a London-based General Practitioner who believes that it is possible to live for well over a century, with targeted self-care and “compassionate lifestyle changes.” In this interview Dr. Patel shares her wisdom and enthusiasm for healthy aging interventions – some of which are based on her own struggles with stress and burnout.
Read a transcript
- This episode is brought to you in association with Clinique La Prairie, the award-winning spa-clinic – and pioneering health and wellness destination – nestled on the shores of Lake Geneva in Montreux, Switzerland. Combining preventative medicine with bespoke lifestyle and nutrition plans, Clinique La Prairie offers a holistic approach to living fuller, healthier and longer lives.
- The role of a doctor – from treater of the sick to health care coach
- What it means to focus on minute-by-minute self-care
- The pivotal life moments that shaped Dr. Patel’s approach to health coaching
- How health advice during moments of pain can be overwhelming
- Tracking lifestyle changes and being accountable to yourself
- Explaining the LQ – Lifestyle Quotient – test
- Why access to personal bio data is vital to understand your health
- Partnering up with a friend or qualified mentor to champion your healthcare journey.
- The Hawthorne Effect – the power of being observed
- The ‘teachable moments” in life that challenge and ultimately inspire us
- Embracing the “reality of life” from the dark moments to the fun side of living.
- Making fitness tech and wearable devices work for you
- Downtime, calendar white space and time to breath
- Diet dilemas and the power of fasting or restricted eating
- The different stages of sleep and why they matter
- Why Alka believes a million-hour-life is a realistic goal
“That sense of journeying alongside someone, who can give you a nudge to hold the accountability, to be your critical friend, to champion you in your journey, is is so, so important.”Dr. Alka Patel
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Alka Patel: You have to have a deep sense of reason and purpose, not simply because the doctors told you to walk more or it’s the trend on Instagram for the week. There has to be a much deeper reason. Why do you want to reverse aging? Why do you want to live long and well?
Peter Bowes: Dr. Alka Patel is a lifestyle doctor, coach and general practitioner. She is on a mission to make us happier and healthier through lifestyle changes, compassionate lifestyle changes and wellness in the workplace. Hello again. Welcome to the Live Long and Master Aging podcast. I’m Peter Bowes. This is where we explore the science and stories behind human longevity.
SPONSOR MESSAGE: This episode is brought to you in association with Clinique La Prairie, the award winning spa clinic and pioneering health and wellness destination nestled on the shores of Lake Geneva in Montreaux, Switzerland. Combining preventative medicine with bespoke lifestyle and nutrition plans, Clinique La Prairie offers a holistic approach to living fuller, healthier and longer lives.
Peter Bowes: Now we’ve talked several times on this podcast about aspiring to have a biological age that is less than our chronological age. There are ways to measure that now, but just knowing the numbers, how does that help us and which lifestyle changes are the most effective in fulfilling that goal of being fitter, healthier and hopefully happier? Dr. Alka Patel, welcome to the Live Long and Master Aging Podcast.
Alka Patel: Thank you, Peter. Thank you for that lovely introduction. I’m delighted to have this conversation.
Peter Bowes: You’re very welcome. It’s good to talk to you. Lifestyle doctor, coach and general practitioner. Just repeating that reminds me that I think most people probably still think of their doctor as someone who doesn’t necessarily do those things. It’s someone who treats disease.
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Alka Patel: Yeah, and you’re right there, aren’t you? I think it’s very much that concept of your GP is somebody that you go to when you’re feeling sick. You land your sickness on their lap, they give you a fix and they hand back your health. And that is exactly what I experienced for the beginning of my career. And you know what, Peter? I felt really great about that. I felt like the fixer of people’s health and I had this sense of significance from that. But I very, very quickly realized that that ideation, I went to medical school, which was I want to help people. I wasn’t doing that. I’d become, well, for want of a better word, a drug pusher, because that’s what I’d been taught at medical school. Here’s a drug, here’s a quick fix. See you. 10 minutes is up. But what I realized and I talked about this a little bit in my TEDx talk as well, was that there’s this revolving door of health care as it stands at the moment, and not just in the UK, but very much in most Western practices around the globe as well, where no one is really getting better, no one is actually taking that sense of self charge and self control of their health. The people in the professional space are not actually improving health to the degree that that we should be. When we look at the numbers and the numbers of even disease diagnoses that are occurring that are going up year by year. And so it really did lead me to think about what’s my role in all of this. Where is this excited 18 year old that opened those doors into medical school? I was going to help people and so I stopped what I was doing and I had a huge shift into really thinking, what is it about people’s lives? That means they have charge of their health. And that’s what led me into the zone of lifestyle medicine. Yes, But what I really describe as sort of common sense medicine, self care medicine, how you take care of yourself. And it all comes back every single time to your lifestyle and the choices that you make about your lifestyle. And that’s in at least 80, 85, 90% of your health is very much about what you do on a day to day, dare I say, minute to minute basis as well.
Peter Bowes: Well, let’s dive into that in a little bit more detail. First of all, you’ve already given me a good idea of your background, how you train to become a doctor. I guess that was just from what you’re saying, a passion from an early age for you to want to help people in terms of their health. But clearly you’ve gone through a transition over the past few years in terms of your attitude towards the job. And I’m just curious as to whether something happened, whether there was a turning point for you, whether there was that light bulb moment for you that made you change the way in which you do this practice in terms of medicine?
Alka Patel: Oh, you are very intuitive, aren’t you, Peter?
Peter Bowes: That’s right.
Alka Patel: Absolutely. Absolutely. You’re you’ve definitely hit on something there. I think probably a couple of things. When we I think when we all look back at our lives, there are pivotal moments. And certainly what I recognize is that from pain is usually where you find progress, where you find passion, where you find a different direction. And my pain was probably twofold. One came from my own personal health issues and a dive into the world of burnout, which took me a long time to accept I was this high flying career woman, businesswoman, GP. I had lots of accolades over 40 letters behind my name, the family, the house, the car, all of it. And suddenly I was burnt out in a hospital bed with my organs not wanting to do what they were designed to do with the visuals of leaving this world because it was all just you know energy. My body just did not have to survive. So I had that sort of touch and go moment. And as I got through it, again, I think these moments of pain are what drive us to have some reflective space. And that’s when I recognize that this constant do, do, do this life. And you’ve heard it before of being a human doing rather than a human being was not helping me to achieve health, let alone anything else that I wanted in my life. Be that happiness, which is another subject to talk about. But beyond that, my profession was such a big part of my identity. What was I doing in that? And, you know, through my own recovery, I had a lot of advice. Eat this, sleep well, exercise more, try this, try that. And all that information and advice left me so overwhelmed that I did nothing. I couldn’t do anything to help myself. And I think it was that was the transition point is what is the piece of information? What are those pieces of of care and support and compassion and information and education that people need to enable them to take just that one step even towards a longer, happier, healthier life?
Peter Bowes: And you’ve just hit on exactly why really, I wanted to talk to you because I think people understand that lifestyle changes. You could call it self-care is where it starts in terms of making those necessary changes to be healthier, to be fitter, to be hopefully happier. The thing that confuses people and you’ve just encapsulated this is where to start. What lifestyle changes do I have to address? Is it my food? Is it my diet? Is it my social connections? Is it the way in which I interact with other people? Is it a little bit of everything? And then it gets almost overwhelming for people.
Alka Patel: Yeah, and it’s exactly that, which is why I, I went through a year of really tracking my own lifestyle changes and holding myself accountable to zoning in on my lifestyle on a day-to-day basis to really see what difference that was making. I spent quite a lot of time reflecting on 20 plus years of a medical career, looking and thinking about the patients, where it went right and where it where it went wrong. I’m talking about quarter of a million patients that I’ve looked after over this time. I use their pains. I use their progress to think about what are those key elements of a lifestyle that actually make the difference. And I like to make things easy for people. So, I did come up with those ten key areas and you’ve touched on some of those already and put them into what I call an L Q test. So it’s your lifestyle quotient that I help people to understand a little bit like your IQ, your intelligence quotient, and your EQ is your emotional quotient. How intelligent, how smart are you being about your lifestyle? And I put together a very simple scoring system and it’s it’s on my website. So, it’s very easy to access for anybody listening. But what it does is it does exactly that. It helps you identify what are the big rocks and what are those small grains. Because what I found we often tend to do, Peter, is we do more of what we like, and we do less of what we don’t like. So, if you’re somebody who likes to just scroll on your phone at midnight and watch that extra episode of Netflix and sacrifice sleep in the process, that’s not the thing you’re going to give attention to. But if you love the running and you love the exercising, you’re going to want to do even more of that. But when it comes to longevity, when it comes to your health span, doing more and mastering what you’re already really good at doesn’t help in that overall picture. So I use this tool to really help guide people into which area is calling out for your help. And the one thing that I found, which really brings us to the current time, today’s age right now is this incredible time that we’re living in when we’ve got access to information. And I know you’ve talked about overwhelm and overload, but I’m talking about access to your personal data, your bio data, utilizing technology and A.I. and wearables and genetic testing and metabolic analysis and energy analysis and all of this that we’ve got right at our fingertips right now. That also makes health fun, that it makes us want to engage in our own health because it’s easier to do it because we’ve got access to information and because it’s personalized and predictive. So I’m very much about using your own data to understand your own health. I think from a general medical perspective, we come at health from a population angle. All the research is based at a population level. We have this triangle. The pyramid of research and the best trials are the ones that are randomized and they’re controlled and they’re huge numbers. And for me, I like to turn that pyramid totally on its head because the most important person is you. N+1 and you’ve got to use your own data and information about yourself to make health choices.
Peter Bowes: I think the issue for a lot of people is that they just need help in reaching those goals. They might acknowledge, as you’ve explained, what needs to be done. The next step is actually doing them and that is why people like you need to be part of that jigsaw to help them attain those goals. At least reach those goals by making interventions that are realistic and realistic within their own lifestyles. I think so many people, I think, still have the attitude of live and let live because they are. We’ve used this word already overwhelmed by what needs to be done. So there seems to be this connection that people need with someone who can guide them, someone in your position, a coach that can show them that everything doesn’t need to be done at the same time that this is to use that word, a journey that can be done in slow steps.
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Alka Patel: Yes, absolutely. And I totally agree that that journey, doing it alongside somebody who is there not to tell you what to do, because I’ve done this for years, Peter, telling people what to do doesn’t mean that they do it. I spent days and months and years in my consulting room spouting public health advice. For example, Public Health England say exercise for 150 minutes a week. All will be well. And nobody toddled out in my consulting room to do that. So it’s not that we don’t do what we know to do. So much of medicine is commonsense medicine. We know to eat well and move well and sleep well, but we still don’t do it. And I think that sense of journeying alongside someone who can give you a nudge to hold the accountability, to be your critical friend, to champion you in your journey is is so, so important. And as you say, there are experts like me because I wear a mixed hat, I wear a coaching hat and a consulting hat. And I think that’s and a therapy hat as well. And I think the combination of that is what I’ve seen is made a big difference in people’s lives. But I do also want to get back to the other thing that can give people the nudge, which is numbers. And this brings us back to data and information. And I truly believe that numbers give you a nudge. So when you’re talking about being encouraged, being driven to do the things that you know to do well, yet your numbers give you that nudge to move you in the right direction. I know you started off talking about biological age as well, which is a subject I love talking about and what I’ve noticed with my clients. And now I measure biological agents, absolutely everybody that I work along with. And no GP does this, of course, but certainly in my practice I do. And that number, it’s a single number, it’s your age and the big nudge that that gives people to make a change in their lifestyle is huge. So let’s start using our data. Let’s start using our numbers to nudge us in the right direction. It’s very, very powerful.
Peter Bowes: Another number that a lot of people pay attention to if they have the appropriate technology, is the number of steps that they walk in a day. And we’ve talked a lot on this podcast about this simple power of of walking and putting one foot in front of another for whatever it happens to be, whether it’s 30 minutes, 100 minutes a day to achieve those. I know it’s an arbitrary number, those 10,000 steps a day, but the power of knowing how many steps you’ve achieved is huge. And I’ve seen so many people inspired by just getting maybe 50 extra steps in a day or maybe almost reaching the goal and deciding to go for a walk around the house just before they go to bed to achieve that goal. It’s extremely powerful, isn’t it?
Alka Patel: It’s incredibly powerful and there’s a huge amount of science behind it as well, which which I also love. Have you come across the Hawthorne Effect or perhaps your listeners have come across?
Peter Bowes: I haven’t, no. Tell me about it.
Alka Patel: So the Hawthorne effect is the effect that being watched has on you. And what we know is that being watched changes your behavior. So you’ve just described that in terms of the steps and why that’s become so popular. But there was an experiment that was done some years ago in Nottingham University. This was on the campus and notoriously at that time there were a lot of bicycle thefts going on in the campus. And what the researchers did was they identified the three key areas on campus that the greatest number of thefts were occurring. And all they did in those areas was they put up a poster on the wall right by these key areas. And that poster was simply a pair of eyes that was looking outwards. And the caption, We are watching you cycle thieves. And what happened, Peter, was that the number of cycle thefts decreased dramatically by 62 percent in those areas. And the only intervention was being watched. And there’s other experiments that also sort of extrapolate to the Hawthorne effect. So the Hawthorne effect is simply what happens to your behavior when you’re being watched. And if you move this into the realm of health. What you just talked about with being watched, your numbers are watching you, your wearables are watching you consider the data that you’re getting from your Apple watches and your phones and your data rings. Now that’s watching you. And when you’ve got something watching you, your action changes. That’s why you get up and walk a lot more. So that simple effect is powerful enough to get us to take action. But I think it’s also it’s also deeper than that. I think you really do need to know why are you doing what you’re doing? Because being watched takes you so far. The numbers nudge you so far, but you have to have a deep sense of reason and purpose, not simply because the doctors told you to walk more or it’s the trend on Instagram for the week. There has to be a much deeper reason. Why do you want to reverse aging? Why do you want to live long and well, what is this actually all about for you? And until you get that and I discovered this again in my when I was having when I was running a very typical GP surgery that I knew everything about my patients, I knew we’d build up relationships over time. I knew about their families, where they were going on holiday. But the one thing I never thought to find out about was what drives them, what’s what’s important to them. I didn’t ask that question. What’s important to you? What matters? And because I didn’t do that, because I didn’t understand their values, that motivation, that ongoing encouragement, when they’ve given someone a diagnosis of diabetes or post heart attack or something so significant and yet people still don’t change their actions and their behaviors is because I hadn’t tapped into the driver, the motivator. The reason and I think that’s so important to to start at is what lies at the core of this.
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Peter Bowes: This is the Live Long and Master Aging podcast. Our guest is Dr. Alka Patel, lifestyle doctor, coach and general practitioner. And I think you’ve really just hit on a very, very important issue in terms of the motivation to do the things that will hopefully keep us healthier for longer. And I often try to describe it like this. Just imagine the times in your life and those close to you that are not good, that they are sad, that involve bereavement, that involve loss, that involve sickness, and especially as people get older and then try to reconcile perhaps which aspects of sickness could have been prevented with lifestyle or changes over decades. It could be diet, it could be exercise, it could be a probably would be a combination of everything that might either prevent those diseases and illnesses, especially those chronic diseases of old age, or at least delay them to a point much later in life. In other words, extending the time of health span the number of years that we enjoy optimum health. And to me, that is quite powerful. And I think every person, every family has experienced those difficult times.
Alka Patel: And I think you’re right. In medicine, we call those teachable moments when there’s something very significant that happens to you or your family. That’s the moment that change is going to have the biggest effect on you. If you take that moment and use that moment as the moment that’s going to make the difference to you, then you’re much more likely to achieve a sustainable change in your lifestyle. And, you know, let’s not let’s not kid each other. Sustainable lifestyle changes are difficult. They’re tricky. We’re hardwired by our habits from day dot, aren’t we? And set and wire to rewire. It takes persistence, it takes the stickability. I love that – using that word. It takes us to to feel connected with with our purpose and reason for for doing that. And I think that that’s really important. But I think the important thing to remember is that our brain is incredible. There is this concept of neuroplasticity, which isn’t just a concept, it’s actually happening all the time. We have got the ability to rewire and create new synapses and we’ve got a beautifully plastic brain that allows us to create new channels and new habits. So I think that’s that’s really important is use that teachable moment for yourself and create those new patterns of habits and have the confidence that you are able to to rewire in a way that works for you.
Peter Bowes: And I think we’re also all acutely aware of the cost of health care, especially later in life. And if that money is being spent on conditions that could perhaps be prevented, the global benefits of a healthier population or healthier populations in plural around the world could potentially be huge. And I always like to try to characterize that as well. Perhaps if we could save money in one area by not having to treat preventable diseases, imagine if that money were put into research for those diseases that tragically and sadly are still not preventable. And to be very honest about this, will hit any one of us without any warning that there still is the potential for that to happen. But if only we could just put more money into the research of those diseases, we would all benefit.
Alka Patel: And that makes complete logical sense, doesn’t it, Peter? It makes complete sense. I think the difficulty is, is that we don’t realize our futures in the present moment, and so the imagination doesn’t often take us to that place where I can prevent something because you can’t even imagine that you’re going to get to that place where, Oh, if only I’d taken those steps earlier. And I find sometimes talking about preventative medicine can sometimes feel like allowing a cloud to hang over you as well. So we are talking about prevention. It’s as though you’ve pre doomed yourself to to a hard life of disease and doom and your life is striving to prevent that. Whereas I think if you just changed your glasses a little and looked at life from the perspective of health and happiness, it’s here with me and it’s not about me preventing myself getting diabetes or preventing myself having a heart attack or preventing Alzheimer’s or cancers. It’s more about right now right here, living that happiest, healthiest life, focusing on my healthspan now and automatically my lifespan will change because I think it can get quite terrifying thinking about health from that, that slightly darker perspective, which I think puts people off. People don’t want to then have conversations about that. The more frightening element of life which is the reality of life. There is a beginning, there is an end, but we don’t want to talk about it. So how can we lighten the load of health? How can we make it more fun whilst keeping it very factual?
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Peter Bowes: I agree we need to dwell on the positive and on the fun. And I suppose in that regard I often talk about the effect of just taking some exercise, going for a swim, going to the gym. How will you feel after the exercise is generally way better than how you felt going into it? People procrastinate and perhaps delay going to do these things, but then generally personal experience, but experience of others. You feel better afterwards, don’t you? And I guess that’s what we need to dwell on.
Alka Patel: And I think when people understand that, that this comes from the dopamine effect, for example, that sense of anticipation or expectation of what something might be and then what it actually is, when you’ve triggered all that dopamine, we’ve triggered your your adrenaline, you’ve reduced your cortisol from from the stress that feel good. It’s so important to just take that pause and and reflect on that as well. But it’s reminding me of what you said earlier about the walking and the capturing, the data on walking and and daily steps and that connection with devices and how you monitor. I truly believe that the device of the future is going to be glucose monitoring, and that’s going to take and in the same way as we’re now, it’s so easy to monitor your steps and everyone’s loving doing it what we’re all going to be loving doing very soon, and not just from a preventative angle, but from a positive predictive angle, as well as just tapping a glucose sensor on our arms, continuously monitoring our sugars, knowing the effect that that exercise had on our physiology and our feel good and utilizing that data and that information. Because I think when it comes to things like sugar and stress, those are really the two key elements that underlie the aging process, the inflammation process, the inflamm-aging process that we’re all going through as well. So I’m looking forward to that future and certainly for my clients and my patients that starts now. I use glucose monitoring for a large bulk of people who I work with as well. And it makes again, it makes health fun. It’s really exciting to know how is this food affecting me? What is the effect of that exercise that I just had and have those numbers that translate the feeling, that emotion into a number as well? It’s great.
Peter Bowes: I think one key issue there is that technology and devices that we wear don’t have to be overbearing. I think you’re wearing an Oura ring. So am I.
Alka Patel: Yes. I’ve got a wellness ring, yes
Peter Bowes: I enjoy it. I’m almost addicted to the data that it gives me after a night’s sleep, especially if it’s been a good night’s sleep. I love that. But equally, I know people who can’t be doing with anything attached to their bodies in terms of monitoring people who are still necessarily interested in their health. But it isn’t for everyone to have devices attached to our bodies. And in terms of continuous glucose monitoring, I’m absolutely with you. I think there’s huge, huge potential in there. But I tried one for a few weeks and the data showed me that there was no problem. Everything was fine. And so I decided, well, I don’t need to wear this thing permanently. But it was it was great to get a snapshot knowing the technology is there.
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Alka Patel: Yeah. And I think that’s that’s the absolute is that although this isn’t something to wear all the time for my clients, they might wear it for two weeks and a month or two weeks every few months or, or two weeks, when then they do it with their partner or their spouse or their family. So again, it’s just part of something that you have access to. So I certainly am not advocating continuous wearing of of devices that feel intrusive. Absolutely. But there’s something there, isn’t there, to get that snapshot, to have that intelligence about yourself to know even and feel grounded that, yeah, I’ve got this, you know, I’m going to do more of what I do because it’s all good. But actually also you may uncover something else. And often you do this, there’s surprises. There may be sugar lows rather than sugar highs, and there’s questioning around that that you can do. So I totally agree. I think this is not us being wired up to the devices and walking around as they were in cyberspace the whole time. But having that freedom to to tap in and tap out of technology when it’s important simply to take the guesswork away. Because I think the other thing is the recognition that life is very busy. Let’s accept that we are in this 24 hour world, globally connected. Life is busy. There’s always the next thing to be done and there isn’t time and space to guess. We don’t want to spend our time guessing on what we could do or should do. We want to know. And tapping in, tapping out periodically gives you that information.
Peter Bowes: And coming back to the point that you made a little earlier about the benefits of being watched, you gave the example of the bikes that are being stolen. Again, some people might react negatively to that and think, well, this is kind of some sort of Big Brother society where I’m being watched and I suppose I would frame it as well. You’re watching yourself.
Alka Patel: Yes.
Peter Bowes: Clearly, we’ve got to be concerned about data and sharing of data and. especially personal health data. But if you and this is how I reconcile it, if I’m watching myself, I am my own control, I am my own disciplinarian, I can use the data to benefit what I do today, tomorrow, and hopefully improve my health.
Alka Patel: Yeah, and I love that it’s turn up, turn your eyes inwards, See what you don’t see when you look outwards. And that’s exactly it. Allow yourself to see yourself. Because again, in this busy world, we don’t allow ourselves the space, the time, the pause to have that internal look at ourselves. And I don’t just mean from a number capturing data, capturing technology space either, Peter. I spent and I’d be happy to share this with you, but I spent over this summer, I spent seven days in silence when I went off to the mountains of Andalusia, and I didn’t say a single word for seven full days, and that allowed me to look inside, allowed me to tap into my own signals. The signals from my mind, the signals from from my body that go unnoticed in this very busy, very noisy world that we’re in. And I’m certainly not advocating every listener needs to go and sit in a mountain for seven days. But you know what? Try 7 seconds and see how that feels. Try 7 minutes and see how that feels. Just allow yourself to tune in to your own signals, to your own sounds, to your own inner workings, your own inner voice. Allow your eyes and your ears to turn inward. And there is a whole lot of signaling that your mind and body are generating for you, just waiting for you to hear. And it’s such an important thing to give yourself space to do.
Peter Bowes: I think we probably all benefit from if, it isn’t silence, it is just those quiet times, those downtimes. I liken it to the white space in my calendar where there’s nothing booked, nothing coming up. It might be just 30 minutes, it could be half a day, it could be an entire day. But just to relish the emptiness and the ‘me time’ to use that expression that is clearly so valuable in this frenetic world.
Alka Patel: Yeah, Yeah. No, I love that. And I think when you try and do that initially, as you say, allow that white space. It’s not always easy. I think your mind is a little bit like one of those snow globes constantly being shaken up and stirred. And then you’ve just got to allow that to settle with you and allow that that white space. There is this tendency to fill up space so quickly. But I love that analogy. I think that’s a great one to use.
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Peter Bowes: Yeah, yeah, I really like that concept. So let’s talk about the main pillars of health and longevity and clearly we’ve touched on them already. Exercise being a huge one. We haven’t talked much about diet and how people approach their diet. Where do you start with someone who clearly needs to make dietary changes? And again, it comes back to what we were saying. You can’t change everything overnight, but which direction would you advise people to go into?
Alka Patel: Interesting question. Very interesting question, Peter, because those diet debates and the food wars seem to continue to rage on. And I certainly have no intention of getting into the boxing ring with anybody when it comes to diet. And what I’ve found the biggest problem that I found is that we are very focused on what we eat. Most of the conversations around diet when it comes to health and health span and lifespan seem to revolve around what we eat and perhaps rightly so to a degree. But in the process, what we forget is talking about when to eat. And when you look at some of the more genetic processes that are going on. So I’m talking about genes that are activated in terms of longevity and living long. Some of these are activated by not eating, by fasting and thinking about periods of time in your day when you’re not eating at all. Is something really important to start talking about a lot more in terms of food and perhaps moving away from the food wars of the specifics of what we eat, to maybe thinking more about the timing of when we eat, how we can tap into our natural circadian rhythms for when we’re eating, how to bring in periods of what I call time connected eating. So eating that sort of following a very different pattern where you’re allowing a significant period of fasting so that some of those genes that are important for the clean up, your daily clean up, your mitochondrial energy, your longevity pathways are much more activated.
Peter Bowes: So essentially what you’re talking about is some level of time restricted eating. There is a lot of talk and a lot of interest in fasting. There are so many different fasting regimes. Intermittent fasting is really just an umbrella term that could include anything from a 23:1 regime to a 16:8 regime. I’ve come back to the idea that, yes, I’m going to eat every day, but just keep it within a certain tight window. For me, it’s not so much 16:8 more of a maybe a 12 to 14 hour period overnight. That is the fasting time, which my reading of the science seems to be the most effective and certainly the safest approach to this. You don’t want to go too radical, but again, everyone is different in terms of how they respond to these different regimes.
Alka Patel: Yeah, and it’s partly comes back again. We’re talking a little bit about numbers here, but when you’re making these sorts of changes in your lifestyle, as you say, don’t go all or nothing, otherwise you’ll get you get stuck. Start with something that feels gentle. Start with. yes, extending the period when you wake up or before you go to bed when you’re when you’re not eating. See how that feels. Comfortably. Tune into those hunger signals and those satiety signals when you’ve got that feeling of hunger. Ask yourself why. There’s a little mnemonic that I use which says, WEIGHT, is the WH? Am I hungry? Feel the signals. If it’s a yes, please eat. So what are you telling you eat? If it’s a no, I’m not actually hungry. I’m bored or I’m lonely or I’m angry or I’m upset. Let’s find a different way to to curb that craving as well. And then yes, if you can just gradually reduce that because again, when you go back to the to the enzymes, we know that when you’re not eating, you’re in a in a low energy state and that family of genes, you may have talked, I’m sure talked about them on your program before, the sirtuins they get activated and then the NAD gets activated as well, and then your DNA gets repaired. So all of this is turned on by by fasting and adds to that longevity, that lifespan that you that you love talking about and and other genes as well again, I won’t go into this today. I’m sure you’ve talked about mTOR and AMPK and how all of these are are very connected.
Peter Bowes: Exactly.
Alka Patel: And so I think that’s the important thing is to find out for yourself. But the reason I measured the numbers is measure it, measure your biological age, see it reversing because you’ve changed the timing of when you’re eating. And if it is making a difference, stick to it. If it isn’t, change it a bit more. So I think again, we don’t need to guess. Was 12 hours good for me? Is it 16? Is it 8? Is it fast every three days it’s, you know, again, have some fun with it and then get a factual get the numbers, measure your biological age so that you’re either motivated to keep doing what you’re doing or you’re motivated to try something different.
Peter Bowes: And how much importance do you put to the number of hours that we sleep overnight?
Alka Patel: Yeah. So this is again, interesting. I’m glad you raised this as well, because again, what I found is that we do talk a lot about the quantity of sleep. And what happens often in the conversations about quantity is we lose the conversations about quality. And yes, I you know, I certainly the research all points to eight being the magic number for the vast majority of people, 7 to 9. But again, you’ve got to know that for yourself. I measure chronotype. I do genetic testing again on the vast majority of my clients so that you can understand your natural genetic predisposition to the morning lark or or the night owl. But when it comes to quantity, also to use your data and track the quality of your sleep, how much deep sleep are you having? How much light sleep are you having? How much dream sleep are you having? Because all of these have different functions. And so it’s not just the quantity, it’s how. What can you then do once you know that, Oh, I didn’t have I’m not getting much light sleep. What’s the issue with that? Well, the issue is that then that then affects your memory processing and your cognitive functioning. Deep sleep has a different function. Dream sleep has a has a different function. But once you know that I yeah, it’s my light sleep, my data tracker, my app, my wearable, the information I have about myself was told me this you can then zone into what do I do about that. So back to your question. I think in terms of how much how many hours of sleep we should have, we can sometimes kid ourselves and we can think we can get by. I’m or I know 4 hours sleep. I don’t need much. I’ve active energized, get on with my day. But behind the scenes, of course, your body isn’t regenerating, it’s not recharging. And that cumulative effect will hit you when the Alzheimer’s strikes that 65 and 70. And we’ve seen these from some of our global leaders as well, haven’t we? Those that haven’t slept and have led the country and at the end of their lives, we know how that ends. So it’s you know, there’s a telling truth in not sacrificing sleep. But there’s one thing you do. Please don’t sacrifice sleep.
Peter Bowes: Yeah, it is a challenge, isn’t it, to just dispel that idea that that notion that for some reason, lack of sleep or fighting against sleep or doing without sleep is to be applauded, that it clearly isn’t. Because I think, as you beautifully explained, that the long term, the cumulative effects are very negative.
Alka Patel: Oh, absolutely. And if there’s one piece of advice. I say I would give it. Please sleep your way to success. That’s the way to achieve absolute success is to make sure that sleep is at the top of your priority list.
Peter Bowes: And coming full circle. This really illustrates how everything is indeed connected. I know from my experience and others, if you skimp on your sleep, the next day your diet probably isn’t going to be as good because you’re going to probably consume too much sugar because you’re you’re tired and you need some energy. Your exercise may not happen at all because you just don’t feel like it. You can’t be bothered. So everything is intertwined in a really crucial way.
Alka Patel: Oh, and it’s a beautiful way, isn’t it? There’s this orchestral symphony going on within us, with millions and millions of connections and reactions taking taking place and everything depends on something else. There’s a whole interdependence that that that occurs. And I think that’s important to recognize is although we feel that we’re that one being there’s so much connectivity going on within us and through us and the energy that you have radiates to the next person and come back to you as well. So we are all connected and I think we have a responsibility not only to ourselves but to each other as well, to optimize our health for sure.
Peter Bowes: And just in closing, how do you visualize your own longevity? You’ve clearly thought about this subject very deeply and you go, perhaps some people were consider to the more extreme measures to experience life, whether it’s not talking for for several days or whatever interactions that you have with technology. But how do you view your own longevity and what kind of aspirations do you have for the decades ahead?
Alka Patel: That’s a beautiful question to end on. Thank you for asking that, Peter. So I have in my mind this sense of a 1 million hour life. And I believe that for myself. And I believe that as the potential for every human to have the potential to live a 1-million-hour life and that’s 116 years if you’re doing the maths. And that’s certainly within our grasp now, because there is proof of that in existence already. And it comes to choice and it comes down to as we’re going full circle those day to day, minute by minute choices that we make about how we choose to to live our lifestyles within the context and the environments that we’re in. But that’s my strongest belief and that’s how I lead my my practice and my clients and my patients with that belief that you have the potential to reach a 1-million-hour life.
Peter Bowes: Do you think it’s realistic?
Alka Patel: I think it’s realistic because there are people on this planet that have already done that. Yes. And we’re living in an age when it’s making it’s becoming even easier and easier for us.
Peter Bowes: I’d never heard that before. The million-hour life. It really it stops you in your tracks. It just makes me…. my first thought was, how many years is that which you explain? It’s it’s inspiring, as has this conversation been inspiring. Alka, thank you very much indeed. Good luck with all of your your work. I hope we get to talk again.
Alka Patel: Oh, thank you so much, Peter. It’s been a lovely conversation. Thank you.
Peter Bowes: Thank you. And if you would like to dive a little deeper into Doctor Patel’s work, please take a look at the show notes for this episode at the LLAMA Podcast website. That’s LLAMApodcast.com where you’ll find much more information. The LLAMA podcast is a Healthspan Media production. We’ll be back with another episode very soon. In the meantime, do take care and thanks so much for listening.
The Live Long and Master Aging podcast, a HealthSpan Media LLC production, shares ideas but does not offer medical advice. If you have health concerns of any kind, or you are considering adopting a new diet or exercise regime, you should consult your doctor.