02 November 2023

Julia Bradbury: ‘Breast cancer made me re-examine my entire lifestyle’

02 November 2023

When Julia Bradbury got home from hospital after her double mastectomy, she sat down and made a promise to herself – which she’s stuck by ever since.

“The first thing I did was sit outside in my garden. It was October, I was very lucky there was a bit of winter sunshine,” recalls the presenter and author, who underwent the surgery, along with reconstruction, weeks after being diagnosed with breast cancer in late 2021.

“I sat on my garden bench and lapped up the light and listened to the birds, and I made a promise to myself that I would be outside every single day of my life from that day forward, come rain or shine.”

Despite already being known for her love of being active in the outdoors – appearing on the likes of BBC One’s Countryfile, and with a string of TV shows and books on walking under her belt – Bradbury, who has three children (son Zephyr, 12, and twin daughters, Xanthe and Zena, eight) with husband Gerard Cunningham, says cancer made her “re-examine” her “entire lifestyle”.

The 53-year-old explains: “It’s one of the most shocking things you can ever hear in your lifetime, when you hear the words, ‘You’ve got cancer’, it just blows your world apart. But I’m happy to say that two-and-a-half years on the other side of my diagnosis, I am doing very well.

“I’ve taken a brand-new approach to my health, which has been to re-examine my entire lifestyle and look at every aspect of my life – from the way I sleep to the way that I spend my downtime, the food I eat, the way I exercise, and how much time I spend outside, which actually wasn’t enough.

“Even though I’m that woman on the telly that does all the walking – walking across borders and landscapes – what I realised was, I didn’t have very good habits. Although these are things I was doing regularly and I’m genuinely passionate about, I wasn’t building them into my day,” she adds.

“I wasn’t getting my morning light every single morning, I certainly wasn’t going to bed at the right time or prioritising sleep, which now I know is fundamental to our health, it’s one of our pillars.”

Now, these are non-negotiables woven into day-to-day life. And as well as being a personal journey of discovery, Bradbury delved into the science behind the wellbeing benefits for her latest book, Walk Yourself Happy: Your Path To Health And Healing In Nature.

“It was so satisfying to sit down and write, and find the science to back up everything that I instinctively have known for years and years,” adds Bradbury, who lives in London with her family but mostly grew up in the Peak District (she recalls long, countryside walks with her father and pottering around in the garden with her mother, both helping instil an early love for nature).

Walking in the outdoors is my therapist, my friend and my gym...

“These things are a huge priority for me and they’ve genuinely helped me through the last two-and-a-half years. I have a tree outside my bathroom window, a London Plane tree, and it’s my friend – in my book I call trees ‘friends with benefits’ – and I spend a lot of time talking to that tree. It’s been a very, very good listener! I say walking in the outdoors is my therapist, my friend and my gym.”

For the second year running, Bradbury has teamed up on the ‘Hats On For Mind’ campaign, along with fellow outdoor enthusiasts Helen Skelton, David Seaman, Sean Fletcher and Gethin Jones – who’ve launched an exclusive limited-edition range of woolly hats and flasks available in selected retailers, with 100% of profits going to the mental health charity, Mind.

For the presenter, anything that highlights the positive impact of getting out in green spaces is a win.

“There is something about movement, particularly the rhythm of walking, it does help you think and, it sounds like a bit of a cliche, but it does clear the head and really helps compute thoughts and feelings and emotions,” she reflects.

She is a big advocate for what she calls “nature snacks” too – another hallmark of Bradbury’s daily routine reboot: “Every 30 minutes, or whenever you can, just get up and go outside, even if it’s for a couple of minutes. Take it all in, then come back in.”

Most of her daily nature fixes now come from walking in the local park, escaping to their communal garden, and even sticking her head out of the window when she does her morning breathwork.

“I do that every morning in the daylight,” she shares. It’s been pretty miserable the last few mornings, but when I popped my head out the window this morning, I was like, yay – there’s a little bit of sunshine! That will go on my gratitude list later, because it just lifted my spirits straight away.

“One of the biggest lessons I’ve had through all of this [the last two years] is gratitude,” Bradbury adds. “I now express gratitude on a daily basis and have a gratitude journal – and there is science behind this as well, you can change the way your brain actually thinks.

“So, my new phrase is – it’s not about what you don’t have, it’s being grateful for what you do have. Because none of us has a perfect life, none of us has everything we’d like, we can all find things not to be happy with.

“But what about the things you do have in your life? And generally, I’d say those are the smaller things. The small things are the big things.”

Julia Bradbury is supporting Hats On For Mind, with personally designed hats and flasks available to purchase from partner retailers including GO Outdoors, Blacks, Millets and Fishing Republic. 100% of profits from the campaign will go to Mind. 

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