As a Medical Doctor and Psychiatry Resident with degrees in Psychology, Physiology and Medicine/Surgery, Dr Kieran Kennedy is a respected health and wellness advocate who holds a passion for furthering the mental and physical health of the modern man and woman.
Kieran sees first hand the absolute importance to a balanced view of health and happiness, focusing on the inner as much as the outer. Through his clinical, media, and fitness work he believes in the importance of sustaining a well-balanced lifestyle to assist in improving and maintaining overall health.
Dr Kieran's mission is to promote health and wellbeing on the inside as well as out, alongside breaking down barriers and stereotypes linked to talking about and seeking help for our health of mind and mental illness.
Question: What are the most common symptoms associated with the smoke haze we're currently seeing in Australia?
Dr Kieran Kennedy: There's no denying that the recent bushfire crisis has seen Australia move through an incredibly traumatic time - and first and foremost we need to point out the importance of prioritising the safety and recovery of the people and communities directly affected.
At the same time however, we've seen some powerful impacts on our health in relation to the smoke and related air quality impacts that the fires have brought, even in areas not directly affected by fire. Recently, the air quality has been recorded as significantly poor and even classified as hazardous at points in areas such as Sydney and Melbourne. This has the potential to significantly impact the health of those in the areas affected, and many will have noticed impacts on their breathing and general health.
Impacts from toxins within smoke, in conjunction with other factors that impact our air quality, can have a direct impact on our lung and cardiovascular systems in particular. It's a great question to ask what might be some of the most telltale signs or symptoms that show we're being affected, as staying clued in to how we're reacting and what our body is doing is key.
For those who suffer from conditions and health problems affecting the lungs or the heart such as Asthma, Emphysema/COPD, Cystic Fibrosis, Heart Disease or Heart Failure, the impacts of the smoke haze and low air quality can be particularly concerning. Symptoms for those who suffer from these health issues can include wheezing, shortness of breath, inability to draw breath, dizziness, tiredness/fatigue, chest pains and or fluid buildup. Any change in our regular breathing, health or situation (particularly if you have pre-existing health conditions) needs to signal a trip to see your doctor as soon as possible. Severe and sudden onset symptoms like significant wheeze, shortness of breath or chest pain should always be met with emergency medical input.
Even those without prior or significant health issues may have recently experienced symptoms during times when smoke is high. These might include slightly tighter breathing, irritated/watery eyes, and irritated airways like a sore throat or nasal passage. Particularly for those used to working out outside, walking to work or biking, we might notice that our fitness or exercise tolerance drops down somewhat during times when air quality is lower.
Question: How can we keep our lungs as healthy as possible when the air quality is poor?
Dr Kieran Kennedy: With each day differing often drastically from the last, it's important to keep a close eye on the air quality through local websites and monitoring agencies. When the air quality is particularly low, keeping doors and windows closed as much as practical is recommended. It might also be worth considering an air purifier for your home - depending on the unit and filters, these can be a great way to improve the air quality and protect our lungs indoors. Remember that the range of impact for purifiers can be limited, so one purifier might only realistically help keep the air clear in one bedroom, or a closed off space like the lounge.
In times of increased smoke haze, staying indoors as much as practical is also recommended - especially for those with sensitivities or lung conditions. See your GP to seek out specific advice, and ensure conditions are kept a close eye on. For those with regular inhalers or as needed puffers for wheeze, keeping up with regular treatments and carrying inhalers close at hand is key.
Question: What other precautions do we need to take when the air quality is poor?
Dr Kieran Kennedy: Keep a close eye on your health in general, and those around us. Any major changes or new symptoms in ourselves, our kids or family members should signal the need for medical attention right away.
Questions around breathing/face masks have been common during this time, but research shows most don't significantly block smoke related toxins. Although people might find comfort in using masks, the common paper masks have been found to do little. Professional grade P2 masks can however filter our major smoke related toxins to a meaningful level, so seeking out professional advice around these might be something some would like to consider.
Question: Can we exercise outdoors whilst the air quality is poor with smoke haze?
Dr Kieran Kennedy: Exercise and heavy breathing will increase the potential impact of poor air quality on the body, as not only do we breathe faster and deeper but our bodies requirements for oxygen increase. Those who notice particular impacts of the smoke might need to adjust their routines - so temporarily avoiding biking to work (as example) or taking your workouts inside might be needed. Air quality can often shift across the day and week, so keeping a check on monitoring sites in your local area and adjusting our workouts to these times can help. For those whose breathing troubles or symptoms are particularly trigged by exercise during high smoke times, it might be wise to reduce the intensity or frequency of exercise for a short period during this time.
Question: Why is it crucial that we put our health as number one this year?
Dr Kieran Kennedy: In the modern world it's easy to be drawn into having, doing, achieving and looking as being priority over our health. As we enter a new decade with 2020, it's crucial we start putting our health as number one. In both a physical and a mental sense, some of the leading illnesses and health impacts worldwide are those that can be prevented and actively improved. Like anything, our physical and (particularly) our mental health is something that improves the more we acknowledge and prioritise it. Whether it's being healthier, fitter, happier or more successful - we need to know that putting our health first is the true foundation for moving forward in all other goals this year.
Question: What small changes can we make to put our health first this year?
Dr Kieran Kennedy: I love this question, because we often forget the big impacts that small changes and steps truly make when it comes to our health. Even slight adjustments and small changes made consistently can really improve both our physical and our mental health. Placing our health and wellbeing as priority is the first step in this process, but other small changes can include steps to promote regular activity (like walking instead of driving to the shops) and making a commitment to getting even an hour's more sleep each night. Mental health can be an area where small changes can truly make a big difference; take even 5 minutes per day to practice active relaxing or mindfulness, or cut the 2 glasses of wine with dinner down to 1.
Question: How can a routine change our health for the better?
Dr Kieran Kennedy: When it comes to health, we're creatures of habit, and so consistency around the changes we want to make to boost our wellbeing is vital. Alongside taking small steps and prioritising our health this year, it's small changes made repeatedly that often have the bigger impact compared to big changes made temporarily. Having a routine with realistic, timely and measurable health goals can be key to success. Alongside, many of our most important factors that contribute to good health work better when we're in a routine. Whether it's quality of sleep, sticking to a balanced diet or making a resolution to up our exercise, locking these things in as habits that we do at the same time on the same days can really help.
Question: Can you share your routine with us?
Dr Kieran Kennedy: I'm very much a man of habit, as anyone who knows me will have zero trouble telling you (they'll probably have a bit of a laugh too). When it comes to my health routines, I like to think I champion the basics so a typical day for me includes a roughly similar sleep (10pm) and wake (6:30am) time, some morning writing and meditation, hitting the hospital for work and then a weights workout for roughly 60 minutes in the evening. Depending on whether I'm preparing for anything fitness wise, I like to prep some meals in the weekend so they're good to go during the week. Making time for mental muscle is really important to me too - down time with a book, connecting with family/friends for a coffee or call each day, and a daily gratitude journal are all things I try slot into my routine every day.
Question: Have you set any specific resolutions for 2020? Can you share them with us?
Dr Kieran Kennedy: I've really loved moving into more health advocacy and medical media work over the last year of so - so one big goal for me this year is to continue sharing messages just like this one that educate, inspire and inform people around their physical and mental wellbeing.
Another resolution I've made this year is to remember the importance of down time and self-care. Like a lot of us, I'm usually juggling a tone of different things and am often on the go 24/7. In so many ways this is a great thing, as I love what I do - but for 2020 I've made it a goal to prioritise some switch off time each week as well. Making time to just 'blob' on the couch a bit more, switch off the phone and emails, and muck around with mates is something I'd like do a little more of this year. I'm picking the body and mind will be thankful for it!
Interview by Brooke Hunter