Your list of New Year's resolutions probably includes at least one of the following: Lose weight, exercise every day, get more sleep, decrease the stress in your life, and start wearing sunscreen every time you step outside. And while a case can be made for those and other health prescriptions, two pre-eminent health experts, breast surgeon Susan Love and psychologist/stress expert Alice (Ali) Domar, are here to tell you that perhaps you don't need to adhere to them as strictly as you've been told. In their new book, Live a Little! Breaking the Rules Won't Break Your Health (Crown), they say perfect health isn't a reasonable—or even possible—goal, and instead we should focus on getting "pretty healthy." U.S. News chatted with Domar and Love about what that means. Here are some edited excerpts.
The book advises women that with a few exceptions, they should generally chill out about their health. Was there one study or silly piece of health advice that inspired you to write the book?
Domar: A group of us [health experts from LLuminari, a health and wellness company cofounded by Love] got together; we wanted to look at the science and get the correct information out to women about what they can do for their health. So we started looking at studies about things like sleep, relationships, and stress. After the second or third topic, it became clear that with every area, there's a U-shaped curve [either extreme is unhealthy]. What you want to do is stay in the middle zone, and that middle zone is pretty large. With weight, for example, having a BMI of between 25 and 29 [considered "overweight" but not obese] is not associated with a shorter length of life. I'd far rather you be 10 pounds overweight than 10 pounds underweight. [Being underweight has been associated with a shorter life and can be dangerous in old age because it offers little protection in a fall.] Women are obsessing with their health, their weight, their exercise routine. What are the health risks of constantly worrying about your health? Do you find that many women think they have total control over their health, if they just do the "right" things?
Domar: Isn't that the message we keep on getting? We have this idea that if you're thin and you exercise, you are immune to disease. Love: I think we need to continually acknowledge that we are not in control. Let go. If you think you're in control of everything and you aren't doing all the right things, that's much more stressful. Instead, leave room for the vagaries of life. Say, "I'm going to do the best I can and enjoy my life while I've got it."
Surely there are some rock-hard rules that we really should all follow.
Domar: There's no getting around it: If you smoke, don't practice safe sex, or don't use a seat belt, you are putting your life in jeopardy. There's a whole lot more wiggle room on a lot of other "rules." Even with [now demonized] hormone therapy, if you have really bad menopausal symptoms, one or two years of it is likely not going to harm you. One thing I learned from looking at the data is how big that healthy middle zone is. What's the big picture on what we should eat? And where is the evidence from?
, the Mediterranean diet—those are good diets. But much of the evidence about diet comes from epidemiological research [which cannot prove cause and effect]. So we really can't say with regards to you and me whether something like the Mediterranean diet will make a difference. Is it the diet or the fact that people who are Greek have close family ties? It's really hard to tell. One of the big issues with things like nutrition is that they'd have to be 20- or 25-year studies. That's how long it will take to see if a diet has an impact on cancer and heart disease. And how do you know if people will follow the diet? You have to look at these things in the real world: A 25-year-old is not going to follow the DASH diet. Instead, you have to have common sense. Women get this. We know that chocolate cake isn't as good for us as carrots.