Dr Zoe Williams interview: The GP Gladiator

South London GP Dr Zoe Williams tells Dawn Tennant why everybody should be active every day.

For me, being physically active is a way of life. Taking part in sport and being active every day has been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember.

I was an F2 doctor when I applied to be a contestant on Gladiators and it was a complete shock when this resulted in an invitation to join the cast of the show as Amazon.

As a child growing up in the 90s, I watched the original Gladiators, so getting the opportunity to become one was incredible. It turns out that hitting people with giant cotton buds really is as much fun as it looks.

My one-year break from medicine was something of a whirlwind, but it wasn't just the camera, lights and costumes that made it so special.

Spending those months surrounded by the team of Gladiators, getting to know them and their stories, taught me how much of a profound impact physical activity can have on an individual's life. Not just the physical aspect, but also through the emotional and psychological benefits.

Gladiators also gave me opportunities to share my enthusiasm for being active, giving motivational talks to children, and attending school assemblies and awards events.

Just talking about the benefits of physical activity and sharing my experiences had an impact and teachers were soon reporting an increase in activity levels and behaviour change, especially among girls.

This led me to develop Fit4Life workshops - a school intervention to inspire, educate and motivate children to be healthy and active.

My time with Gladiators helped me establish that I wanted a future in general practice, and to do more to encourage active lives and to empower patients to improve their health through lifestyle change. But you don't have to be a Gladiator to reap the rewards of that.

Health benefits

Being active, even just moderate activity, such as walking to work or taking the stairs regularly through the week, has huge benefits for health, but I believe the consequences of this are not fully understood by many people.

Physical activity can play a part in reducing the risk of conditions such as dementia, diabetes, and breast and bowel cancer.

Despite this, according to Public Health England's 'Everybody active, every day' framework, 19% of men and 26% of women are 'physically inactive', meaning they do less than 30 minutes of activity a week. Worryingly, only 21% of boys and 16% of girls meet the CMO guidelines.

Our sedentary lifestyles mean more and more people are at risk of ill health. Even those taking regular vigorous exercise are at risk of damaging their health by spending long periods sitting down.

For GPs, my favourite tip is to banish the waiting room auto-call system. Simply standing up and walking a few steps every 10 minutes to call in your patients could have significant benefits for your health. It can be that simple.

GPs are in a strong position to help promote physical activity to our patients and drive home the important message that doing something every day has long-term health benefits.

It is critical that we start asking patients about their physical activity levels and embedding messages on physical activity into our everyday practice, just as we are accustomed to doing with smoking.

Insufficient physical activity is the fourth leading cause of ill health in the UK, making it as dangerous as smoking and obesity.

Everybody should be active every day. If someone classified as 'physically inactive' - doing less than 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a week - increases their activity throughout the week with bouts of 10 minutes or more, their health can dramatically improve.

For GPs, having a good knowledge base of resources, facilities or leisure centre deals available in your local area will help.

The message is clear - physical activity can be done every day, it doesn't have to cost anything and it can be fun. I incorporate it into my everyday lifestyle in any way I can.

I live in London, so choose cycling for my regular commute to the surgery, and often find walking can be just as quick and more pleasant than taking the tube.

I go running regularly, make use of the free outdoor gym equipment in the local park and attend yoga as my mid-week stress release.

When I reflect on my past, I can see all of the benefits I have gained by being fit and active. Not just regarding health, including helping me to manage my asthma, but also confidence, determination and a competitive drive to achieve my academic potential. Not to mention the amazing opportunity to be a Gladiator.

* Twitter: @ZoeWilliams @Fit4lifelearn

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