Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Dr. Weil

Title: Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to Your Physical and Spiritual Well-Being Unabridged version
Author/Narrator: Andrew Weil, M.D. Read by the author.
Publisher: Books on Tape, 2006
Format: MP3 audiobook (Also available in an abridged version, and in print)
ISBN: 0-7393-1599-4

You know you've made the big-time as a public health figure when you're known as "Dr. X" (like Dr. Spock)--no first names necessary, thank you very much; it's the inverse, doctorish version of Cher and Madonna, I guess. Because Dr. [Andrew] Weil advocates integrative or holistic health, he is perhaps not yet as widely trusted as Dr. Spock was, but I believe that if it is not yet here, that time is coming.

The integrative approach to health, as I understand it from reading Weil (and also Alice Domar's books), views health or well-being as the result of one's status in many areas: physical fitness is important, but so are sprituality, nutrition, exercise, and psychology. For Weil specifically (see link to book at end of post), the goal of being healthy/in optimum health is to gird the immune system, to make it as powerful as possible so that the body can fight disease on its own. This is the best, most effective way to heal. Modern medicine can step in when it is needed, but it's better to need it as seldom as possible.

Therefore, instead of reflexively reaching for Advil (but doing nothing else) to cure frequent headaches, the integrative approach to health would ask that you instead consider the problem in a wider context--physical, emotional, nutritional, and spiritual--to see if there are ways you can alter your practices in these areas to stave off the headaches to begin with. The goal is to strengthen the body's own defenses overall so the immune system can take care of many problems on its own. I really like the idea of acknoweldging the effects of psychology, spirituality, and interpersonal relationships on health, and it seems logical to focus on strengthening the immune system to forestall problems.

In Healthy Aging, Dr. Weil criticizes the excesses/harm caused by the recent antiaging trend (often pseudoscientific) of searching for treatments that deny, reverse, or outright halt the signs of aging; instead, he advocates an integrative approach to growing older that aims at "compressing" morbidity. This basically means living well and then dying fast: having an active old age without significant debilitation until one's last few years (months?), when the end comes. If suffering and major illness are limited for the most part to the end of the lifespan, then one can experience the positive aspects (wisdom, depth, perspective, reflectiveness, etc.) of growing older without being overwhelmed or immobilized by pain or chronic suffering.

In addition to questioning the usefulness of the desire to halt or eradicate aging entirely, Dr. Weil also discusses the positive aspects of growing older, looking at aging as an enriching, deepening process. He considers the aging of whiskey, wine, and cheese as positive examples. Rot and decay are involved in these processes, to be sure, but they can produce positive results, such as enhanced, complex flavor and depth of taste. Weil wants us to view the effects of human aging in similar fashion. Denial of aging is not useful; nor is pretending that one will not die or ignoring the process and effects of bodily decline that we all experience. To live openly and straightforwardly with the process--physically, spiritually, and emotionally--and accept both the gifts it offers and the costs it exacts is ultimately more rewarding, says Dr. Weil. I agree.

A note on the audiobook: it's read by Dr. Weil himself. When an author reads his/her own work, it's often illuminating in terms of tone, inflection, interpretation. For me, sadly, Dr. Weil was not the most effective narrator of his own book. He reads as if delivering a paper at an academic conference: rather dry, sometimes hurried, distant, and he pounces on "QUOTE" . . . "END QUOTE." At least he does not say "unquote," as some do. His voice can seem flat at times, a bit monotone, though it is possible to tell when his enthusiasm/intensity level raises. I think this text would've been better served by a professional reader, someone more skilled at using tone/modulation/expressiveness to retain reader interest. To listen to Dr. Weil read a URL aloud is a somewhat unpleasant experience. That said, however, no one's beard (see cover pix) is cuter than Dr. Weil's.

Weil explains his theory of integrative health and the act of strengthening the immune system in many books; the one I've got is:

Title: Eight Weeks to Optimum Health, New edition, expanded and updated
Author: Andrew Weil, M.D.
Publisher: Ballantine (orig. 1996; rev. ed. 2006)
Format: Trade paper
ISBN: 978-0-345-49802-1

A final note. It's expensive to be healthy. Organic foods cost more; vitamins can really add up (my own personal vitamin recommendation over at Dr. Weil's site would cost over a hundred dollars a month); and it is time consuming to prepare whole foods. Is this an approach to eating that can be adopted by busy people without much money? Will it appeal to more than the worried wealthy (or merely well-off) well? I hope so.

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