Tag Archives: health

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Come and Get It

Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have in Search of Happiness We Can’t Buy by James A. Roberts (HarperOne, $25.99, 368 pages)

“The chief value of money lies in the fact that one lives in a world in which it is overestimated.”   – H. L. Mencken

Author James A. Roberts is a professor of marketing at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.   There’s no doubt that he knows of what he writes.   In some ways Shiny Objects is similar to The Man Who Sold America by Jeffrey Cruikshank and Arthur Schultz, and Shoptimism – Why the American Consumer Will Keep on Buying No Matter What by Lee Eisenberg.   Among them, the three  books capture a wide view of the marketing tricks, human weaknesses and buying trends that are behind the urge to attain the American dream.

Shiny Objects is clearly written for readers in the USA.   Author Roberts tailors what could easily be just another self-help book into a person-centered experience complete with memorable quotes at the start of each chapter (such as the one posted above).   He includes graphs, charts, sidebars and illustrations that enliven the very serious subject – compulsive acquisition that most folks cloak in the guise of the pursuit of the Great American Dream.

There is a strong interactive presence in many chapters that gently allows the reader to respond to the questionnaires that are designed to reveal personal tendencies, proclivities or urges related to material possessions and their appearance – which is, sadly, a false one – of granting happiness.

There is some original research associated with the writing of the book as well as numerous well-annotated references, data and quotes.   Roberts also references his survey of other researchers’ research on consumption/consumerism.

The marketing classes at Baylor presented by Dr. Roberts must be very popular given his smooth conversational style and ability to weave useful strategies through his narrative.   Perhaps this book, which is highly skeptical of the marketing practices in this country, is his way of offsetting the marketing skills he teaches in his college classes.   This quote makes the point: “The primary goal of this book is to make the argument that lasting happiness lies outside the consumer realm, beyond the shiny-object ethos.”

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Shiny Objects was released on November 8, 2011, and is available as a Kindle Edition and Nook Book download.   “Shiny Objects is ultimately a hopeful statement about the power we each hold to redefine the pursuit of happiness.”   Amazon

Readers who find this book interesting may also want to consider Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert (Vintage, $15.95, 336 pages) and Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt (William Morrow Paperbacks, $15.99, 315 pages).

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The River

Between Me and the River by Carrie Host (Harlequin)

Review by Ilie Ruby, author of The Language of Trees: A Novel.

Few of us are well-versed in what it takes to save our own lives.   Carrie Host is.

Between Me and the River is a heartbreaking, glorious, and poetic rendering that spans several years of a young woman’s life during which her body is ravaged by a slow-growing but deadly form of cancer.   It is also the story of a woman saved by her inner resources, and the buoying love of her husband and three children.   In Between Me and the River, Host intimately describes her battles and triumphs in nail-biting detail.   While difficult to read at times, Host’s cut to the quick candor keeps the reader engaged as she takes us on a journey into the labyrinth of the medical system, as she rebuilds her body, brick by metaphorical brick, only to have it ravaged again.  

Her lyrical descriptions provide a reprieve from the harsh realities of a life forever on the “river” – a metaphor that she uses for her cancer.   At once poet and realist, Host’s struggle to make peace with her disease provides a compelling narrative that propels the reader to turn the book’s pages with care, hanging on to Host’s voice as though it’s a life raft through the unknown rapid waters she so bravely navigates, even when it appears she will drown.   Yet, through it all, one has the feeling she’s got her eyes set on the horizon, far enough in the distance to see herself across the river.

Sometimes the river is torrid.   Sometimes it stops moving completely.   Emboldened with a fighting spirit even as her 5’7′ body drops from a healthy 135 to a haunting 97 pounds, rendering her unable to hold her head up let alone hold a new baby, the future looks bleak.   But treatment after treatment, she fights and holds on, wrestling with her own spirituality and drawing epiphanies about herself and her relationships – the sort that come from the deepest depths of despair – that bless her with an uncommon peace that only those who have visited death’s door can intimately understand.

Host navigates the river as she enters into complicated dialogues with friends, her children, and her husband, all of whom, at times, she believes she may never see again.   She describes the desperation and frustration she feels when hiring someone to care for her children, to do the things she is supposed to be doing as she feels herself falling into a shadow of her former self when cancer seems to be winning.  

This is a story that shakes the reader to the core, one not for the faint of heart, but certainly a worthy one.   Host, caught in the middle of a glorious life, could have been any one of us…  yet, she is no longer like us.   She is different, as only a woman can be when she has touched death’s door and returned with as many scars as gifts.  

This book teaches us powerful lessons about love, letting go, and forgiveness, about the quest for health and the fight to survive, about savoring every small moment with the same enthusiasm and appreciation as all the grand moments put together.   In the end, it is Host’s determination and wisdom that bring her back fighting.   Hers is a voice not easily forgotten, one that makes a reader wish her many more healthy years, for surely she has many more gifts to share with us.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Forever

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

This begins as an excellent biography of a woman who might have remained unknown but for a miracle of medicine.   “At the age of twenty-one, Henrietta stared through the train window at rolling hills and wide-open bodies of water for the first time, heading toward a new life.”   Henrietta Lacks died in 1951 of cervical cancer but her cells are still alive.   To be exact, only her cancer cells continue to live but they may live for up to 100 years if frozen.   They are the so-called HeLa cells that are used by researchers throughout the world to advance the knowledge of how to fight and halt disease.

Author Rebecca Skloot has taken on the challenge of melding a family’s story with a tale of medicine and law.   The personal story is engaging and quite well done.   The reader will come to feel that he or she not only becomes acquainted with Henrietta Lacks, but also her late daughter Deborah, and her other children and grandchildren.   And, as Skloot gracefully notes, they are quite beautiful grandchildren.

This reader felt the telling was less effective when addressing the medico-legal issues.   That’s because the case is made that Henrietta’s cells were, in effect, stolen from her by Johns Hopkins Hospital.   Yet once you’ve read through two-thirds of the book, you learn that Hopkins explicitly met the medical research standards (and the legal requirements) of the day.   Indeed, it was a much different time.   A relation of this reviewer gave consent for a cancer biopsy in 1950 in a northern California hospital.   Only later did the relative learn that her stomach cells were only removed in California; the cell slides were mailed to Johns Hopkins for the medical research and analysis.

There’s also an apparent contradiction in the events.   We’re told repeatedly that Henrietta did not consent to having her cells used for medical research.   Yet, her husband did authorize an autopsy and there’s also a reference to a death-bed conversation during which Henrietta was said to have told a physician that she was pleased that others might benefit from an examination of her cancerous cell tissues.   But even if this conversation never happened, the law at the time was what it was.The author tells us that the rights of research subjects were largely unprotected until 1966.   Yes, and this means that a lot of time is spent reviewing and debating the medical morality of an earlier time.   It is a moot point.

Henrietta’s daughter Deborah is the appealing figure in this account.   She is the family member who argued – passionately and perhaps appropriately – that one cannot hold yesterday’s medical professionals to today’s ethical and moral standards.   Deborah, in fact, jumps off the pages of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks as the person who is brought back to life in the writing.

The descendents of Henrietta Lacks have never benefited from the use of her cells, leaving aside the issue of whether they were properly appropriated.   They have not received any money, and although HeLa cells are sold for medical research, the family does not have health care.   This is truly a shame, an injustice, and it is hoped that Skloot’s account will – in highlighting this case – change things.

Henrietta Lacks deserves to be remembered, as does Deborah Lacks.   Rebecca Skloot has provided the tombstone that Henrietta’s family could never afford.   This true account is at its best when paying tribute to a woman whose life, in death, has benefited countless individuals worldwide.

It is encouraging to hope and think (and perhaps pray) that this account will result in a better life for the children, beautiful grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Henrietta and Deborah Lacks.   That would be the greatest tribute of all.

Highly recommended.

Reprinted courtesy of the New York Journal of Books.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Make It Easy on Yourself

ibsDo 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 discomfort and pain – than 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 rule out other serious conditions or ailments such as colon or stomach cancer, Crohn’s Disease, colitis or a hernia.   Only when all of these and other verifiable possibilities are determined to be non-existent 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 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, 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 – had a large hamburger or steak recently? – high fat foods are tough to digest.

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 skeptical reader and IBS-diagnosed patient the new diet worked, both well and 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 disease through diet, she could then manage it even further through exercise and a better mental attitude.   When you consider that this trade paperback sells for less than $20 ($15.95), it is a wise investment.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Coming Up Next…

ibs 2 (small)A review of The First Year: Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) by Heather Van Vorous.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized