Be your own version of 'healthy': Dr Neela Janakiramanan on how she manages her health and day - Women's Agenda

Be your own version of ‘healthy’: Dr Neela Janakiramanan on how she manages her health and day

Dr Neela

Dr Neela Janakiramanan is a surgeon, author, columnist, media commentator and activist, among other things.

She also has a young family and is real about what she can fit into her day and what’s really needed when it comes to managing your health.

Each week on Women’s Health News, we hear the stories of different women who are not only juggling busy careers, but often caring duties and a variety of other competing responsibilities at a time that’s increased pressured on many of us.

That’s why we were so keen to hear from Dr Janakiramnan, given the many roles she has and the passion and energy she gives to everything she’s involved in.

As she’s previously written for Women’s Agenda, Dr Janakiramanan is a strong and powerful advocate for getting vaccinated, highlighting the privilege we now have to do so that should never be taken for granted.

So how does this surgeon manage her health? Especially alongside the demands of a young family, a busy practice, media appearances and finding the time to write (she’s just written her first fiction book, On A Knife’s Edge, which was shortlisted as an unpublished manuscript for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards).

Dr Janakiramanan shares just how in the answers to our health Q&A below, admitting that like many of us, she struggles. And she’s certainly not one to get up at 5:30am.

She also stresses that while there may be many standards on what a health routine can look like, “it’s ok if we don’t meet someone else’s ideal of what being healthy looks like”

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In the morning, I…

Struggle! I am not really a morning person! I am also profoundly seasonally affected so really love the bright warm mornings of summer but struggle to get up and get going in the cold dark mornings in the middle of the year.

My family indulge me with a coffee in bed most mornings as the way to get my creaky brain going before I have to be up. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to give myself permission to lean into my strengths rather than force myself to be the person that advice columns suggest is ‘ideal’ – dinner, not breakfast, is my biggest meal, I’m just not going to get up at 5:30 am to write or exercise, but I can quite happily do both at 9 pm.

And weekend sleep-ins are the trick to being able to meet the early starts that my job demands during the week. 

My exercise routine includes…

Grand plans and intermittent achievement.

Again, as I have gotten older I have come to accept my strengths and weaknesses. While I can be proud of so many self-motivated achievements, I have little internal motivation to exercise. I am a plodder and enjoy being outdoors – I can hike all day and enjoy various forms of bike riding, but these are hard to fit in on a daily basis, especially if you’ve decided you’re not the person to get up at 5:30 am.

When gyms are open, I try and do a high-intensity workout in a group personal training environment. I like turning up, being told what to do, and leaving 45 minutes later. On weekends I like being in nature – going on walks on bike riding. The last few years of seemingly endless lockdown have been very hard to find the motivation to exercise, especially when I haven’t been able to do the things so enjoy outdoors.

My favourite workout is…

One where the exercise is almost incidental. I really enjoy discovering new things and seeking out a view. So give me a hike through a National Park, or a long run through a new city, or a bike ride with glimpses of the ocean. Combine that with some good company and hot coffee at the end and that’s the perfect way to move. 

I find balance in…

Doing different things, and weekends. There’s a lot of different things I am involved in – medicine, writing, commentating, committees and councils, advocacy, voluntary work.

Medicine is the thing I have done the longest and while I adore the work, my patients and the teams I get to work with, if’s also the most tiring, physically and emotionally because it gets 100% of my energy and commitment when I’m there. I have huge respect for my colleagues that work seven days a week but I need to bracket it with the other things I do, and rest.

My writing still feels like a hobby that got out of hand, and I get huge satisfaction from being able to make voluntary contributions in a number of other spaces. I’m not very good at ‘rest’ – except in the mornings!

On health, I encourage women to…

Find what works for them.

Experts and influencers might have any number of shiny opinions backed by numbers that sound very convincing. But population level statistics, no matter how good they are or how rigorously studies have been done, don’t tell you about you and your personality, circumstances, desires, motivations and capabilities.

Basically, humans need to eat vegetables, move their bodies, have social connection and have their basic needs for housing, financial security and safety met.

I think first off we have to acknowledge that society makes these things hard, if not impossible, for many people. So it’s ok if we don’t meet someone else’s ideal of what being healthy looks like, and if we have to prioritise some things over other things because we can’t do it all. Ultimately, I encourage my patients to avoid that which causes harm, while pursuing what health behaviours are possible within all the limitations we all face. 

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