True vitality means feeling energised and optimistic each day, but getting there isn’t easy

In his new book, The Vitality Mark, author and lifestyle-medicine practitioner Dr Mark Rowe tells Jennifer McShane how to make our journey to vitality simply and easily thanks to his five-point plan for a happier, healthier life in a post-Covid world
True vitality means feeling energised and optimistic each day, but getting there isn’t easy

Dr Mark Rowe: His short videos and positive messages during lockdown were a huge hit

Dr Mark Rowe has been a practising family physician for more than 20 years, and right away, he tells me, the culture of ‘a pill for every ill’ is something he’s always veered away from.

A relief.

Instead, he advocates lifestyle change as the best medicine for lasting wellbeing. This means looking at how our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual selves all impact on our health and ability to stay well.

Usually, I’m wary of books thinly disguised as a form of self-help, but a few chapters into The Vitality Mark, I’m happily surprised this is not one of them. Broken into easy-to-follow segments: Heart, Body, Soul, Mind with a VitalityMark assessment questionnaire, it aims to let you know where you sit on the ‘Vitality Scale’, identify the gaps in your wellbeing and offers a programme to make small, sustainable improvements that will increase your vitality over time and put the bounce back in your step. The questionnaire scores you separately in each of the five areas of your vitality — emotion, physical, spirit, mind and connection — in addition to giving you an overall vitality score: your own VitalityMark.

Two of the big takeaways from the book are firstly how uplifting it is, and secondly, how easy the book makes beginning these changes.

Dr Mark Rowe
Dr Mark Rowe

It’s about starting small and building from there, at your own pace. It doesn’t feel too heavy; we don’t need another book telling us how to totally start from scratch, this does the opposite and works with what is already there.

“This book is my response to the pandemic. It is a paradigm shift from what you have lost to how you can grow as an active participant in your own wellbeing — rather than simply a passive consumer of healthcare,” Mark explains.

“It's not about being perfect. It's about progress. It's about being kind and good to yourself. And it's about the small actions and the little steps that you can choose to do that can move you positively towards getting more life into your everyday lived experience. And who doesn't want that?”

The book stemmed, Mark explains, from doing short little videos during Covid to help patients and put positive messages into the world.

"First I put out 40 videos in 40 days. Then I did 100 videos in 100 days. I didn't think it would last 100 days! I don't think anyone did. But then during that, I said to myself, maybe I should write these down and put them into a book because I think I was meeting so many people and throughout COVID, who really had been sort of re-looking at their lives, reevaluating things.”

“I wanted to kind of put that into terms that people could understand in terms of sorting out their health and to understand the environments we spend our time in, can be really not just health depleting, but they can also be so health-enhancing — people are really appreciating beaches, mountains greenways more than ever before, for example and this can make a huge difference.”

What it means to have vitality in 2022 has changed, Mark agrees. It’s no longer simply about the traditional ways in which we might measure our health through one singular aspect of say, diet for example. Everything is interconnected from mind, body and even our spirituality.

“What I've really reflected on is how people with the same chronological age at birth, can be so different biologically,” he continues.

Dr Mark Rowe
Dr Mark Rowe

“When I started to practice, more than 25 years ago, it was very unusual to meet somebody over 85. So you might see some very old people that were surviving, but they certainly weren't, let's say, thriving into their late 80s. Now, I've got so many patients that are well into their 80s and they're full of life and full of vitality. And you start asking yourself, why is that? It’s then you start looking at really how interconnected everything is.”

In the book and over the course of our conversation, he highlights a study published in The Lancet, where they looked at men aged over 65 over eight years: “From that, they found people with a strong sense of purpose are far less likely to get heart disease delayed on average two years longer. And you start seeing just from that how the mind, emotion, body spirit, are all interconnected elements of your vitality.”

Ageing, especially in 2022, can be viewed on either side of the scale, good or bad, depending which generation you ask. It is a privilege to age and still women, in particular, are faced with an enormous pressure to retain youth because such youth automatically means vitality. This is a stereotyped outlook, and Mark says just thinking of ageing differently can literally help you live longer.

“When it comes to ageing, Yale University found having a positive view of ageing; seeing ageing as a time when you acquire wisdom, new perspective, new outlook means you tend to live about seven years longer than people who have a negative view of ageing. We always heard in medicine about the placebo effect, as if it’s something that should be sort of denigrated. Whereas really, it's amazing how the mind can impact the body, the impact the heart/brain connection can really have and how emotions can have such an impact on our physical health. And what's really exciting, is that if you commit to making very small, actionable, simple changes, in even one aspect of your wellbeing, this can benefit everything else and compound over time. So, I think that's really exciting,” he continues.

Dr Mark Rowe
Dr Mark Rowe

As a doctor with more than two decades of experience, Mark says the two biggest positive changes he’s seen people adapt to when it comes to their health comes down to overall wellbeing and a focus from men on their mental health.

“I'm seeing an increasing number of people who are interested in staying well. They're not just interested in getting an antibiotic when they've got a chest infection or whatever they're actually interested in staying well overall. And I have an increasing number of people who will come to me for a wellness check or a lifestyle consultation; people becoming active participants in their own wellbeing, as opposed to being passive consumers of healthcare. In other words, people taking ownership of their own health journey.”

“I think the second big thing that I've noticed, particularly in the last four or five years, is how many more people, particularly men, are willing to talk about their mental health, are willing to talk about their stress, and are willing to talk about burnout or whatever it might be. Because there were things that were very off-limits in the past. I think there's more openness. Now, of course, things can always be better. But I think people are much more willing now to go for counselling and so on — and that’s accepted. And, of course, you can't magic away everything, and nor should you believe you can, but you can listen, and try to help understand and support people and signpost them in the right direction.”

“As I say in the book, every journey is individual but fundamentally each one starts with patience, persistence, progress, starting things small and building on that building up momentum over time. And remember, wherever you are, whoever you are, today can become a new starting point to move forward and live with more vitality. Living with more vitality is very inexpensive, it doesn't have to cost any money, just a little bit of investment in your own self-care and your own time and energy. Not only will you benefit enormously from it, and add more light to your years and your daily lived experience. But all your relationships will benefit and you create a positive ripple effect. By doing this we can all create a caring, more compassionate world, one conversation at a time.”

The Vitality Mark by Dr Mark Rowe
The Vitality Mark by Dr Mark Rowe

The Vitality Mark by Dr Mark Rowe (Gill Books, €16.99) is out now

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