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To Your Health

Spring Chicken: Stay Young Forever (Or Die Trying) by Bill Gifford (Grand Central Publishing, $16.99, 366 pages)

spring chicken cover Amazon

Spring Chicken is a book with an intended audience. You should read this book only if you are interested in living longer.

bill gifford

Bill Gifford is a rather average guy, with a receding hairline and a bit of a beer gut, who decides to investigate how to live to and past the age of 100. It’s pretty tricky stuff, especially since “your risk of dying doubles roughly every eight years.” What?

When we’re young, the risk (of dying) is fairly minimal; there isn’t much difference between age twenty-five and, say, thirty-five. But thirty-five to forty-five is a big jump, and by fifty our peers are popping up with breast cancers and colon cancers and high blood pressure and other scary ailments.

Yes, this death business is pretty scary stuff. But Gifford handles it with a great deal of humor and more than a dab of self-deprecation. The surprising thing is that, other than being born with good genes (such as the writer’s grandmother in her late 90s who eats an unhealthy serving of rich pastry each and every morning) and doing one of two things, he finds that there are no magic bullets to avoid aging. The key – how simple is this? – is not to avoid aging but to avoid aging as quickly as others in your peer group.

Gifford notes a harsh reality, that at a high school or college reunion of individuals the same age, some will appear to be older than their classmates and some will appear to be younger. This is, to some extent, the luck of the genetic draw but is also a reflection of lifestyle. (The individual who appears to be younger – such as the old friend who has retained a full head of hair, bright eyes and sparkling nails, may in fact be healthier; although this is not a hard and fast rule.)

Gifford’s self-assigned job was to find out what factors result in a person living a longer and, more importantly, a healthier life. He discovers that there has not been much substantive progress in this venture. Why haven’t we devoted as much time and energy to improving and extending human life as to, say, putting a man on the moon? To be sure, science and medicine are working to eliminate deadly diseases but whenever one is conquered another one pops up to take its place. (Gifford provides a logical explanation of why we age and die. Some of it has to do with the fact that the resources of our planet are limited. But the key is that human life is tied to the survival of the species, not the individual. Aging, in fact, is a visible signal to the world that we’ve moved beyond our essential, critical breeding years.)

If there’s no magic to aging slowly and extending life, what things can be done? First, as a research scientist-physician tells Gifford, “It’s very simple. Get off the couch.” Exercise is the drug. And it need not be strenous, back-breaking exercise. You can walk, jog, swim, or play tennis or golf. Almost anything done regularly which involves movement helps to extend health and life. (However, sports that involve stress and torque, like tennis and golf, are highly problematic for aging backs.)

Exercise is key because mobility is essential. Without mobility – and this is true in humans as well as for animals in general, disease and death are never far away. In Spring Chicken, Gifford includes practical tests that one can use to self-measure mobility.

So, exercise is one key factor in terms of longevity. Remember that Gifford discovered two important factors. However, no spoiler alert is needed as I’m not going to disclose the second factor here. You will need to purchase the book to learn that rather surprising “secret.”

spring chicken alternate cover

Read this book and stay young forever! Or, die trying.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This book was purchased by the reviewer.

“Gifford’s survey of those who study aging and those who claim they can slow it down or stop it makes for a great read.” The Washington Post

Vitamania

If you read and enjoy Spring Chicken, you may also want to consider Vitamania: Our Obsessive Quest for Nutritional Perfection by Catherine Price.

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Uptight (Everything’s Alright)

The First Year: IBS — An Essential Guide for the Newly Diagnosed by Heather Van Vorous (Da Capo Press, $16.99, 242 pages)

“…knowledge is power over IBS…  (With it) you will be managing your IBS – it will not be managing you.”

Do you regularly or periodically have disabling stomach pains, the type that hurt so much you just want to lie down, curl up and be still?   If so, you may be experiencing the digestive flare-ups brought on by Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).   IBS actually has less to do with your stomach – which seems to be the source of the discomfort and pain – then with the digestive tract; it was formerly known as Spastic Colon disease.

As explained in The First Year: IBS, this is a medical condition determined by exclusion rather than inclusion.   If you think you may be IBS-afflicted, your doctor will want to perform a series of exams and tests to exclude other serious conditions or ailments such as colon or stomach cancer, Crohn’s Disease (which may result in cancer), colitis or a hernia.   Only when all of these and other verifiable possibilities are ruled out will an M.D. decide that someone is an IBS sufferer.   If you receive such a diagnosis, you will want to pick up Heather Van Vorous’ “Essential Guide for the Newly Diagnosed.”

I purchased this book after weeks of  painful (and sometimes burning) symptoms and the subsequent medical diagnosis.   I was far from optimistic that my aches would be relieved by a new diet.   Van Vorous, however, makes a quite convincing case that IBS flare-ups are triggered by consuming certain foods or liquids.   These triggers are different for each person but they can be things as simple as:  coffee (sigh), artificial sweeteners, nuts or seeds, popcorn, fried chicken, fruits such as pineapple or fruit nectars, pastries or baked goods, chocolate, etc.   It is also essential to lower the amount of fat in one’s diet since, as we all know (eaten a large hamburger or steak recently?), high fat foods are tough to digest.

“Children with IBS absolutely cannot eat at McDonald’s, Burger King, or most any other fast food restaurant, because there is literally nothing safe on their menus.”

The key to Van Vorous’ diet remedy is to begin limiting the intake of insoluble fiber foods (such as popcorn), replacing them with soluble fiber foods – “the basis of the IBS diet.”   Soluble fiber foods include such pleasing and digestible items as rice, potatoes, flour tortillas, bananas, mangoes and applesauce.   The First Year provides easy-to-read and copy (one per page) lists of insoluble fiber and other foods to avoid, and of the soluble fiber foods that will become the foundation of a former sufferer’s new diet.

Suffice it to say that even for this sceptical reader and IBS-diagnosed patient the new diet worked, both well and relatively quickly!   An added benefit of the diet prescribed by Van Vorous is not only the absence of pain and discomfort, but an improved (“regular”) digestive tract.   IBS sufferers often bounce back and forth between constipation and diarrhea, but not after adopting the soluble fiber regimen.

The First Year also addresses the importance of stress management and exercise.   Tai Chi is a specific form of exercise that is recommended as “a type of moving meditation.”   Van Vorous had IBS for over twenty years and learned that after she limited and controlled the condition through diet, she could then manage it even better through exercising and applying a positive mental attitude.   When you consider that this trade paperback book sells for less than a $20 bill, it’s a very wise investment.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This book was purchased by the reviewer.

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