Booster Shots

Oddities, musings and news from the health world

Category: Books

Book Review: 'Stay Healthy at Every Age' by Shantanu Nundy

July 4, 2010 |  7:36 am

NundyYou've been told you have high cholesterol and need to get the numbers down. But how bad are your levels, really, and what might happen if they don't improve? What's the best way to get them in line? 

Or maybe you have a history of breast cancer in your family and wonder what kinds of screenings you should be getting and when. Should you consider genetic testing?

Dr. Shantanu Nundy addresses these and other preventive healthcare questions in his new book, "Stay Healthy at Every Age: What Your Doctor Wants You to Know." 

Nundy's book was born out of conversations he had with his mother when he was in medical school. She was in her early 50s and had Type 2 diabetes. He was surprised at how little she knew about preventive health measures, despite seeing a doctor regularly and having medical insurance. 

He talked to her about getting screened for colon cancer, taking aspirin every day to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and getting an annual flu shot. Eventually, at her request, he put together a preventive healthcare checklist with additional reading material to help her understand each of the services on the list. 

This became the foundation of Nundy's book, which aims to help readers take charge of their preventive healthcare to improve their chances of living a longer, healthier life. Nundy says he includes only recommendations that have been proved to prevent disease and save lives. "Nothing discussed in this volume is experimental or controversial," he writes. 

The book, published by Johns Hopkins University Press, indeed takes a straightforward, conservative approach both in its presentation and advice. Many of the recommendations come from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a government-sponsored panel of independent experts in prevention and primary care, Nundy says. Information on immunizations comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Readers may want to go first to the checklist section of the book, which outlines the screenings, vaccines, counseling and preventive services recommended for children, women, men and at-risk people at eight stages of their lives, starting at birth.

Later chapters discuss these things in greater depth. Topics covered in a Q&A format include screenings and preventive services for alcohol misuse, blood pressure, various cancers, cholesterol, depression, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, sexually transmitted diseases and tobacco use. The book describes the conditions and outlines causes, prevention, risks, tests, screening risks, results and recommended next steps. It has short chapters on early childhood and pregnancy preventive health. A section on vaccines talks about how they work, who should get them and when, and their risks. 

"Stay Healthy" is not comprehensive -- breast, cervical and colon cancer screenings each have a chapter, but prostate and skin cancer do not, for example. And some discussions are fairly brief. Nevertheless, those who want to better understand common health conditions and determine whether they're getting the recommended preventive care for their age may find it a helpful, trustworthy resource. 

-- Anne Colby

Photo: "Stay Healthy at Every Age: What Your Doctor Wants You to Know," Dr. Shantanu Nundy, Johns Hopkins University Press, $45 hardcover, $18.95 paperback


Book Review: 'The Longevity Prescription'

Book Review: 'The Roadmap to 100'

Book Review: 'The Strong Women's Guide to Total Health'

Book Reviews: 'The No Om Zone,' 'The Yoga Body Diet' and 'Healing Yoga for Neck & Shoulder Pain'

June 26, 2010 |  2:57 pm

Some people use yoga to strengthen, stretch and relax muscles; others delve into its lifestyle and spiritual aspects. Here are three new books with varying approaches to the 5,000-year-old practice.

Noomzone “The No Om Zone” bills itself as a “no-chanting, no-granola, no-Sanskrit practical guide to yoga.” This book by Kimberly Fowler, founder of the L.A.-based YAS Fitness Centers, is geared to athletes and others who want to improve muscle tone and flexibility, take away aches, alleviate pain and calm the mind. Fowler promises you won’t have to go sit on a mountaintop and chant to achieve these results.

The former triathlete started doing yoga in 1983 to rehabilitate after an injury and became a fan after seeing the benefits to her body and athletic performance. She was turned off, however, by "elitist" classes targeted to the few who could do pretzel poses and handstands. Today, the motto in her yoga classes is “safe, fun and effective.”

Her book offers short workouts for 13 parts of the body, including the neck, arms, core/abs, lower back, hips and knees. Each body part gets its own chapter describing and showing the anatomy of the area, common injuries, recommended yoga poses for it and a workout routine typically lasting about 10 minutes. Poses are accompanied by photos, step-by-step guides, difficulty ratings, descriptions of benefits, tips and modifications to make them easier.

Fowler does manage to slip some mind-body material into the book. The first body part addressed is the head, for example, and here she talks about the benefits and practice of meditation and describes how to do yoga breathing.

This is a good book for those who want yoga workouts targeted to individual body areas as opposed to a one-size-fits-all workout. Fowler also offers a "No Om Zone" DVD containing three 15-minute workouts.

Yogabody “The Yoga Body Diet,” by Kristen Schultz Dollard and John Douillard, is everything “The No Om Zone” is not. Not only is it not a no-granola book, it even includes recipes for granola.

Dollard, digital director at Self magazine, is a yoga teacher and former editor of Douillard directs LifeSpa, an ayurvedic retreat center in Boulder, Colo., and has written and produced numerous health and fitness books, CDs and DVDs.

Their pretty book – generously illustrated with colorful pen-and-ink drawings – says it can help you get a “yoga body” in four weeks through eating, exercising and de-stressing according to the principles of yoga and ayurveda.

The book describes ayurveda as yoga’s sister science, one of the world’s oldest medical systems practiced by 80% of India’s population today. Dollard and Douillard say their mission is to present “ayurveda’s greatest hits” and teach you how to use it for weight loss.

“Yoga Body” kicks off with a quiz to determine what ayurvedic “type” you are: vata (airy), pitta (fiery) or kapha (earthy). Each type is told what kinds of foods to eat and avoid, yoga moves to do and lifestyle changes to make. Recipes for chai tea, pad Thai, roti pizza and other dishes include variations for each ayurvedic type.

The book’s illustrated yoga pose guide is easy to follow, with about 75 positions that range from the simple corpse pose to the more challenging revolved half-moon.

The book at times has the feel of an overly simplified greatest hits compilation as it offers its take on ayurvedic practices. Some of the recommendations – such as to stop snacking and eat only three meals a day – may not work for some or even have proven benefits. But those interested in the ayurvedic philosophy may find the book an approachable starting point to determine whether they want to go further into the practice.

Healingyoga “Healing Yoga for Neck & Shoulder Pain” zeroes in on the area of the body where many people feel the effects of stress. Author Carol Krucoff, a yoga therapist at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, N.C., writes that neck and shoulder tension, tightness and discomfort are the top complaints of her students. Krucoff says she’s been successful in helping people find lasting relief with yoga, though it doesn’t happen overnight.

Krucoff, a former Washington Post journalist, looks at the practice of yoga through this lens, exploring the science of neck pain and yoga; the anatomy of the spine, shoulders, neck, face and jaw; the role of stress and emotions in neck and shoulder pain; and the best postures for sitting and standing.

She explains how, where and when to do yoga; how to breathe properly; and how to do 38 poses to help the neck and shoulders. Simple line drawings illustrate the mostly gentle exercises. Some of the stretches can be done in an office chair. 

“Healing Yoga” is a good introduction for those who want to focus on this part of the body, or ease into yoga for physical reasons or lack of familiarity with the practice. The book’s production values are basic, but the writing is clear, informative and inspiring.

Krucoff writes that the best healing comes when people bring the lessons of yoga into their daily lives.

“Rather than muscle your way into a yoga pose, you learn to relax into it -- using the tools of gravity, patience, and the breath -- to allow the pose to deepen and unfold,” she says. “Over time, with regular practice, the lessons learned on the yoga mat begin to influence how you live in the world.”

-- Anne Colby

Photos, from top: "The No Om Zone: A No-Chanting, No-Granola, No-Sanskrit Practical Guide to Yoga," Kimberly Fowler, Rodale Books, $19.99; "The Yoga Body Diet: Slim and Sexy in 4 Weeks (Without the Stress), Kristen Schultz Dollard and John Douillard, Rodale Books, $21.99; "Healing Yoga for Neck & Shoulder Pain: Easy, Effective Practices for Releasing Tension & Relieving Pain," Carol Krucoff, New Harbinger Publications, $17.95


Book Review: 'Gold Medal Fitness'

Book Review: 'The 10-Minute Total Body Breakthrough'

Book Review: 'Denise's Daily Dozen'


Book Review: 'Gold Medal Fitness' by Dara Torres

June 19, 2010 |  3:31 pm

GoldMedalFitnessFINAL JACKET

Dara Torres was 41 when she won three silver medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, beating women years her junior and becoming the oldest swimming medalist in the history of the Games. Her wins were a victory for older athletes everywhere. 

In "Gold Medal Fitness," written with Billie Fitzpatrick, Torres answers the question many have asked her since: How did she do it?

Her new book -- a follow-up to her memoir, "Age Is Just a Number"  -- outlines the fitness program that she says remade her body and helped her win races long past the age at which most competitive swimmers hang up their goggles.

"Gold Medal Fitness" shows readers how to replicate her type of workouts and perhaps experience greater success in their own athletic endeavors. It describes the swimmer's approaches to goal-setting, diet and exercise; offers 35 days of simple menu plans; features pictures and descriptions of the kinds of exercises and stretches that are a mainstay of her workout; and gives tips on cardio and recovery.

Torres says she has become stronger, leaner and more efficient through a type of strength training she learned from Andy O'Brien that works on three planes of movement to strengthen core muscles. She says most exercise equipment is designed to strengthen one or two muscle groups at a time on a singular plane, whereas most life activities and sports work on multiple planes: up and down, forward and back, side to side and rotating top and bottom.

Though she says the "deceptively simple" exercises shown in her book can be done by people at any level of fitness, they do require equipment and a commitment to learning the proper form. Access to a gym -- as well as a workout partner or trainer -- is probably a given, since exercises call for a BOSU trainer, a Swiss ball, a medicine ball, dumbbells, a cable machine and an incline bench. 

Torres has attained her flexibility, she says, from a resistance stretching program called Ki-Hara that she learned from Steve Sierra and Anne Tierney. Ki-Hara incorporates eccentric training, which contracts and lengthens muscles at the same time. Torres says this type of training builds more muscle power, helps create fast-twitch muscles and speeds recovery. She says Ki-Hara has "literally changed" her body so that she's become faster in the pool and more in balance. These exercises don't require equipment, though a yoga mat, towel and Swiss ball can be used.

Continue reading »

Book Review: 'Diet Myths That Keep Us Fat' by Nancy L. Snyderman

June 12, 2010 |  8:15 am


The Information Age has not been kind to the dieter. The sheer volume of nutritional data available today can be overwhelming. And dietary advice seems to change with the season -- eat more carbs, don't eat carbs, count calories, don't count calories, cut back on fats, eat all the fats you want. Who can keep up?

NBC News chief medical editor, physician and author Dr. Nancy L. Snyderman attempts to bring some sanity to the table with her book "Diet Myths That Keep Us Fat," now out in paperback.

In it, she examines the many diet and nutrition beliefs floating around today -- some that she says are true and others that are anything but. She looks at popular weight-loss strategies and describes their origins, how they work, whether they're effective and how they stack up medically and nutritionally. 

Snyderman's perspective is both personal and professional. She writes about gaining the typical "freshman 15" when she started college -- and how she kept gaining until she eventually tipped the scales at 200 pounds. She experimented with fad diets to lose weight and spent years going up and down in weight. She writes, "I've starved myself, and I've pigged out; I've binged, dieted, skipped meals, and lived to tell about it."

She eventually saw a therapist and gained insight into her overeating. "Although I still consider myself a work in progress, I learned to lay the foundation for a healthier life, in much the same way I was laying a foundation for my medical career," she writes. Today she looks at food as fuel, eating foods she likes in moderation and letting herself indulge in treats now and then. She exercises regularly with activities that are convenient for her and that she enjoys. For her, this is an effective and healthy way to keep off the extra pounds.

It's this relaxed approach to eating and exercise that she brings to "Diet Myths." Written in a conversational style, the book is engaging even as it's discussing the glycemic index, the pros and cons of diet drugs and surgeries and how hormones can influence your hunger and weight.

One of Snyderman's major points is that calories do count. (High-protein, low-carb diets, she says, work primarily by restricting calories.) She offers easy ways to think about calories and keep track of them without feeling as if you're doing so. She does the same thing with carbs -- and emphasizes that because our bodies need them to function properly they shouldn't be eliminated from our diets.

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Book Review: 'The Longevity Prescription' by Robert N. Butler

June 5, 2010 |  5:52 pm

Longevity Is 80 the new 50? It is when you compare Americans' average life expectancy today -- about 78 -- with what it was a century ago, when the average American lived to about  50.

In "The Longevity Prescription," Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Butler writes that this three-decade dividend, as he calls it, doesn't have to be lived out in declining health as many assume.

Common ailments such as heart disease, arthritis and lung problems are arriving a full decade later than they did 100 years ago. This suggests that we have it within our power to increase the chances of staying healthy longer, says Butler, founding president of the International Longevity Center and founder of the National Institute of Health's National Institute on Aging. 

Genes play only a small part in longevity, he says -- studies consistently find a link of 5% to 35% between parent and child. He says research clearly shows that a healthy lifestyle can make a big difference in helping people live longer and push back or avoid the onset of chronic illness, lack of mobility and cognitive decline.

Of course, this won't be news to many. There has been a steady flow of research and stories for years suggesting that good health habits can make a difference. What Butler has done in his beautifully written new book is integrate these findings with inspiring stories, clear explanations, compassionate advice and step-by-step strategies to offer an easy-to-follow prescription for a more healthy life.

Yes, most people know they should be getting regular sleep, reducing stress, eating better, exercising more, getting preventive care and nurturing their relationships -- all topics in the book. It's putting these things into practice that can be the hard part. This is where "The Longevity Prescription" is particularly useful.

Want to keep your brain in good working order? He prescribes "cognitive calisthenics": Find an activity that challenges your brain and invest at least 20 minutes a day, five days a week in it, monitoring progress and increasing challenges. His suggestions include turning off the TV, bookmarking a favorite news website, learning a word a day, reading a book or an e-book, learning to play an instrument, memorizing a poem, playing puzzles, pursuing a passion.

He writes that a good marriage at age 50 has been shown to be a better predictor of good health at age 80 than a low cholesterol count. But friendship is priceless as well, he says.

If you need a little primer on enriching or deepening friendships, he suggests first finding three friendships important to you: one healthy and active, one dormant and one broken. Examine all three for lessons good and bad and try to put them in good working order. Then he offers practical suggestions for doing so, among them: Be a listener, think before you speak, practice forgiveness, be positive, try out tolerance, say no when necessary, don't be smothering, be accessible, keep in touch. 

Not rocket science, right? But invaluable advice all the same. Each chapter of Butler's book offers similarly common-sense suggestions and ideas. He starts with a quiz you can take to rate your "longevity index" and ends with a contract to fill out, committing yourself to taking good care of your health.

-- Anne Colby

Photo: "The Longevity Prescription: The 8 Proven Keys to a Long, Healthy Life," Robert N. Butler MD, Avery, $26. 


Book Review: "Passages in Caregiving"

Book Review: "The Roadmap to 100"

Book Review: "The Strong Women's Guide to Total Health"

Book Review: 'The Winner's Brain' by Jeff Brown and Mark Fenske with Liz Neporent

May 29, 2010 |  6:48 pm

Why are some people highly successful in life, while others just get by? Authors Jeff Brown and Mark Fenske say the difference between the high-achieving and the merely average is due not to IQs, life circumstances, financial resources, social connections or luck but to the workings of the brain. 

In "The Winner's Brain," Brown, a Harvard cognitive-behavioral psychologist, and Fenske, a neuroscientist, present evidence showing that the brains of the high-achieving operate differently from those of the average person. Brain scans measuring neutral activity show these processes at work, they say.

The good news, according to Brown and Fenske, is that the brain can be reshaped and rewired by employing the strategies successful people use to overcome obstacles and reach their goals. 

"The brain is active and subject to change no matter what you do -- this is one of the key discoveries of modern neuroscience," they write. "What sets the owner of a Winner's Brain apart is the desire and the know-how to take charge of the process."

Brown and Fenske say that transforming your thinking, emotions and behavior as well as the physical structure of your brain is not unlike doing bicep curls to reshape and add inches to your arms. 

The authors have identified five "brainpower tools" commonly used by successful people: seeing opportunity where others don't, accurately gauging and being willing to take risks, being able to stay focused on a goal, possessing the energy to take action and being able to accurately assess one's strengths and weaknesses.

Continue reading »

Free autism book giveaway

May 24, 2010 |  4:42 pm

Autism Tomorrow Book  Fifty thousand free copies of the book "Autism Tomorrow: The Complete Guide to Help Your Child Thrive in the Real World" are available on a first-come-first-served basis at its website

The book, offered by Autism Today and the Center for AAC and Autism, is a manual aimed a helping parents and kids navigate the road to adulthood.

Some of the blurb from the website:

"Now that many of our little children with autism are reaching adulthood, questions arise like…'What do we do now?' 'Where do we go from here?' 'Where will my child live?' 'Will they get married and have children?' 'How will they get along in the real world if I’m not around?' This book provides both a road map and a fill-in portfolio to help you make intelligent decisions, regarding the direction and intentions you have for your child’s life."

The book features chapters on issues such as community, safety, employment and independent living. Written by Karen Simmons and Bill Davis, both parents of children with autism, it contains insights and advice from 16 autism experts, including some (like Temple Grandin, an animal scientist with autism, and Stephen Shore, a professor with Asperger's syndrome) who know well of what they speak from their own life experiences.  

This would seem to be a really useful resource, whether or not you win a freebie.

--Rosie Mestel

Graphic Credit: Susan Beidel

Book Review: 'Passages in Caregiving' by Gail Sheehy

May 22, 2010 |  9:00 am

Book jacket of Passages in Caregiving-1 Caring for a loved one with a chronic illness -- a parent, partner, sibling or child -- is a role no one aspires to but many of us will take on.

In her superb new book, "Passages in Caregiving," Gail Sheehy writes that someone is serving as an unpaid family caregiver in almost one-third of American households. It's a job that lasts an average of five years.

"Nobody briefs us on all the services we are expected to perform when we take on this role," she writes.

That statement is no longer true, for "Passages in Caregiving" -- written from Sheehy's personal experience supplemented by a generous dose of reporting -- does it well. Her book outlines the road that awaits caregivers and gives practical advice to help them on the journey. It's an ambitious and readable blend of memoir, reportage, consumer advice, pep talk and love story.

Sheehy, author of the bestselling 1976 book "Passages" and many other books and articles, was married to Clay Felker, the legendary editor who founded New York magazine and cultivated such writing talents as Tom Wolfe, Jimmy Breslin and Gloria Steinem. They were a high-profile New York media couple with a life many would envy.

Then one day a phone call came that changed everything. It was a cancer diagnosis for Felker. As they absorbed the news and started making the rounds of doctors, Sheehy realized she had taken on a new role: family caretaker. She thought this would last six months to a year and then their life together would go back to normal. It didn't. 

Continue reading »

Book Review: 'The Stress-Eating Cure' by Rachael F. Heller and Richard F. Heller

May 15, 2010 |  1:57 pm


Many dieters will see themselves in the portraits of overeaters presented in “The Stress-Eating Cure,” by Rachael F. Heller and Richard F. Heller, authors of the popular “Carbohydrate Addict” books. 

The Hellers write in their new book about the anxiety-induced stress eater, the task-avoiding stress eater, the person who eats on the sly. They describe people whose overeating is triggered by social situations, those who eat to reward themselves for self-sacrifice and others who eat on the run, barely tasting their food.

The 11 types of stress eaters they identify have something in common, they say: Their overeating, cravings and weight gain are caused not by a lack of discipline and willpower but by a hormonal imbalance.

Unlike those whose bodies produce the right amount of hormones in the face of unpleasant circumstances, stress eaters -- who often are more sensitive to their environments -- respond to stress with “trigger-quick” hormonal reactions, the Hellers say. The hormones at play are ghrelin, serotonin, oxytocin and leptin as well as insulin, cortisol and adrenaline. 

Each type of stress eater is prone to surges and deficiencies in these hormones in different combinations, the authors say. The Hellers offer a diet they say will help bring these hormones back into balance and relieve stress, plus behavioral modification programs that are tailored to each type.

Continue reading »

Book Review: 'For Better' by Tara Parker-Pope

May 8, 2010 |  2:18 pm

For better One of the perks of being a journalist is that it can give professional license to explore subjects of personal interest and to knock on doors closed to most people -- all in the course of doing your job.

Author Tara Parker-Pope has made the most of that opportunity with her excellent new book, "For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage."

Parker-Pope, who writes about health in her Well blog for the New York Times, said she became interested in the science of marriage when her own 17-year union began to founder.

She sought help in making sense of the situation but was put off by the platitudes she found in self-help books. "I knew where to look for answers about heart disease, diabetes, allergies, and numerous other health issues, and I wanted the same objective, evidence-based advice about my marriage," she writes.

As she ventured into scientific databases, she was surprised  to discover a large body of research on marriage and relationships that offered practical advice about marital health. She said she realized that basic scientific truths she uncovered could have helped her see the signs of trouble earlier in her marriage.

In "For Better," Parker-Pope seeks to help other people make better choices and save or strengthen their own relationships. Her passion for the subject creates a driving momentum that propels the reader through the book as she attempts to answer the question, "What makes a good marriage?"  

Continue reading »


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