Good Advice: Live a Little!

live a little book cover

I just read a book that I think you might really like – it’s called Live a Little!  Breaking the Rules Won’t Break Your Health by Susan Love, M.D. and Alice Domar, Ph.D.  For the uninitiated, these two are power-people in women’s health and psychology.  Susan Love wrote the bible on breast cancer, and Ali Domar is a psychologist and mind-body medical expert.  I’ve benefited from both of them, indirectly – I pored over Love’s Breast Book during my cancer diagnosis and treatment, and while in treatment, I participated in the Mind-Body Program for Cancer Patients at the (then) Mind-Body Medical Institute at the Beth Israel Deconess Hospital in Boston – Ali Domar was there, then, running her fabulously successful and interesting program for women with infertility issues. 

So all that background is to say, I trust these women, and I was intrigued by the title and premise of the book – it’s all about doing what you can to maintain your health, without making yourself crazy.  Love and Domar de-bunk the myth of “perfect health” and get down to brass-tacks about what’s really necessary.  They suggest a new standard for us to shoot for, “Pretty Healthy,” meaning that you generally stick to healthy habits, but that you don’t make yourself nuts following all the “wisdom” du jour.

Consider this excerpt:

What woman can’t rattle off a list of to-do items for healthy living?  Exercise for a healthy heart; train with weights to build muscle and bone; stretch to maintain mobility; eat meals that are carefully designed for good artery and bowel function; drink one glass of red wine daily to avoid heart disease; resist the temptation to drink two glasses of said wine to avoid breast cancer; get a full night’s sleep to promote immune function; expose the skin to sunlight for ten minutes to absorb vitamin D, then immediately apply sunscreen to avoid skin caner; relieve stress to strengthen the immune system; build a social support network to ward off Alzheimer’s; book appointments with our mates for healthy sexual pleasure; and, of course, maintain a body mass index that falls exactly within the “healthy” range listed in every women’s magazine. 

And don’t forget the Kegels.

Love and Domar know it’s impossible to follow all the good advice, all of the time, so instead, they give us the poop on what to worry about and what to let go.  They cover all the biggies:  sleep; stress; health screenings; exercise, nutrition; relationships; and give a decade-by-decade run-down of risks and challenges.

Consider this humorous tidbit on the myth of the “Perfectly Balanced Woman” (PBW) – you know, the one you think is everyone but you? 

The PBW is never psychotically busy but is also never bored; she always makes time for the yoga classes that refresh her soul and lend a rosy glow to her skin.  She never scowls at her coworkers; she doesn’t need to stagger into Starbucks in the late afternoon, desperate for a hit of caffeine and sugar.  And she never inconveniences her family by taking to bed with a tension headache.  Did we mention that she can wear adorable stretchy workout pants to her yoga classes because she never, ever needs to indulge in stress eating?

Instead of guiding us in how to attain “perfect balance,” Love and Domar let us off the hook for our imbalance, and note that a crucial part of stress management is self-acceptance.  Yes, we might have those days where we stress-eat a pound of fettuccine Alfredo, and that’s OK once in a while.  But they also give us some tips on how to prevent those reactions in the future.  Most of all, they encourage us to move on from those “indiscretions” and to forgive ourselves for them.

Whether it’s giving you the facts and the encouragement to have fun with food again, or just acknowledging that not everyone at every life-stage can follow the current exercise guidelines to a T (“Are you relatively young, healthy, physically competent, and very busy?  Well . . . for you, it’s possible that not exercising is a reasonable choice.”), this book is about doing the best you can, most of the time, and about easing up on yourself all of the time.

For a quick, entertaining read that’ll help to “take the hell out of healthy,” I recommend this book – it might change your perspective on things!