Adventurer Leila takes on Dry January challenge

Adventurer Leila Javadi-Babreh just loves a challenge. Next month she’s off to Lapland to compete in a 150km run.

But this month she’s set herself a target which millions more of us will be aspiring to achieve – going the whole of January without alcohol.

Dry January is growing year-on-year and is seen as a brilliant way to improve your physical and mental health wellbeing, helping you to lose weight, sleep better and save money.

The national campaign is supported by Oxfordshire County Council’s public health team, which exists to improve the health of local people and protect Oxfordshire people from preventable health issues – helping local residents live safe and healthy lives and play an active role in their communities.

Leila, 32, is excited to be taking on the challenge and admits it will be the ideal preparation for her latest Arctic adventure.

She said: “I live a very healthy lifestyle but I do enjoy a glass of wine every now and then. So I’m excited to do Dry January. I’ll feel less groggy, I’ll be better hydrated – I think it’s a nice challenge to do.”

Leila works as a Physical Activity and Health Manager for Active Oxfordshire, encouraging more people to become active, specialising in long-term health conditions and disability.

Active Oxfordshire is funded by Sports England and works closely with public health and the NHS to promote healthy lifestyles.

Last year Leila’s team assisted more than 1,000 people with diabetes, commissioning behaviour change pathways and encouraging them to join walking groups and become more engaged with the community.

Good balance

Leila is the perfect embodiment of someone who lives an active lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t partial to the odd tipple.

“I do often have a bottle of rioja in the cupboard. That might be a bit of a misconception when people see me and say ‘you must be really healthy – you must be ultra-fit’” she said.

“You should try to have a good balance. In my opinion it’s more the reasons for why you have that drink, and watching out for any signs that you are over-indulging - or having it because you’re stressed.

“For me, that’s not maybe a good idea because then when you’re having quite a low time that might be the thing that predisposes you to actually having more alcohol as a way to numb any issues.

“You don’t have to be strict with everything but actually it’s not healthy to drink too much. It does cause you to become dehydrated and there are many other ways to relax.

“I’m a healthy advocate. There are national guidelines and I stay within those national guidelines.

“It’s everything in moderation. It’s about looking at your behaviour. We all know in ourselves if we’re perhaps indulging a little too much in one thing.”

Originally from Leamington Spa, Leila worked as a barmaid while studying fine art at Warwick College.

She joked: “I knew I was in the wrong job because if anyone had drunk too much I would tell them ‘oh no, I don’t think you want another drink!’”

Instead she pursued a career in health and physical activity, painting her way to travel the world, scuba diving with sharks, running up mountains, kayaking, horse riding and even enjoying salsa. She learnt the value of self-discipline as a young martial artist, where she became a second-degree black belt and five-year English champion.

Swapping dog-sled for a bike

For six winters she enjoyed long-distance dog-sled racing in Alaska, encountering everything from grizzly bears to charging mooses in temperatures below -50C.

Leila joined the Active Oxfordshire team 18 months ago, swopping her dog-sled for a bike to cycle from her home in Kennington to work in Kidlington.

“The cycle routes around here are amazing and it’s great to have that thinking time while you’re out on a bike,” she said.

“I really enjoy Oxfordshire and hope to be here for a while. I love art and sport so I couldn’t be better served than I am here.

“It’s definitely the place to be. I don’t watch TV that much and one of my favourite things to do is go to the Natural History Museum. I like walking and really enjoy being a part of the city.”

Leila has become an ambassador for This Girl Can, an organisation which has encouraged more than three million women to get active.

She also runs her own art company and sketches and paints as another way to unwind.

“Having a hobby can take you away from the temptation to over-indulge. There are lots of different ways to unwind and it’s about understanding those limits when it comes to sensible drinking.

“We don’t want it to become a habit rather than just an enjoyment. It’s always bringing that message back to recheck, recheck.”

Positive thing to try

Jackie Wilderspin, a member of the council’s public health team, said taking part in Dry January would help people to sleep better, lose weight and improve their skin, saving money in the process.

Of the 95,485 NHS Health Checks conducted across Oxfordshire in the past five years, more than 4,500 people were given advice on lowering alcohol.

Public health specialist Jackie said: “There’s no doubt Dry January is a really positive thing to try. It can give you a great start to the new year. You might be surprised at how many people are joining in – which is good for moral support.

“It can give you a real energy boost and put you in a positive frame of mind. Even if you start by trying for one or two regular drink-free days each week, that’s a great way to improve your health and mental wellbeing. You may even find you want to carry on with that for the rest of the year.

“This is all about raising awareness and preventing those long-term problems which can lead to things like injuries and admission to hospital.

“We want to help people live safe, healthy lives and are committed to supporting residents in tackling health and lifestyle challenges.”

So do you know how much is too much? An online test has been developed which calculates whether you’re exceeding public health guidelines.

Take the test by clicking here https://www.drinkcoach.org.uk/oxfordshire-alcohol-test