Lose weight, exercise more, get 8 hours of sleep, eat more fruits and vegetables, reduce stress, take supplements… have you grown weary of all the health rules offered by TV doctors, magazine articles and well-intentioned friends? Dr. Pauline Chen, in her New York Times column last summer, wrote about a patient’s difficulty in absorbing “a fire hose of advice.” “Thanks to some dazzling advances in preventive medicine and public health,” she wrote, “doctors in almost every specialty of medicine now have a panoply of proven preventive recommendations to keep their patients from getting sick.”
Dr. Susan Love, the well known breast cancer researcher, takes issue with many of those recommendations, or “health rules” as she calls them in a book called Live a Little!: Breaking the Rules Won’t Break Your Health. She goes down the list of well-known “to do items for healthy living” and questions the etched-in-stone rules that seem to be guiding many of our every day decisions. She writes;
Health rules can mislead you into half way believing that if you eat only the right things, or exercise in the proper way, you can escape not just run of the mill illnesses but death itself. This way of thinking leads to a distorted set of priorities: Instead of trying to be healthy so that you can enjoy life, you squander your happiness in the pursuit of more health.
Dr. Love “studied the studies” in six areas that generate the most health rules; sleep, stress management, health screenings, exercise, nutrition, and personal relationships. While new research has added to our knowledge (and grown the list of rules) since then, her thoughts about putting research findings in context, and using common sense to guide our actions, still holds up. Here are a few examples from her book: … [Read more]