If you're feeling overwhelmed by all the health studies and health "rules" out there, fear not. Dr. Susan Love and Dr. Alice Domar, both health experts, tell us in their new book, Live a Little! Breaking the Rules Won't Break Your Health, that you may be doing just fine -- even if you're not getting 8 hours of sleep a night or an hour of exercise every day.
Here, the doctors explain why you can stop worrying and start to "live a little."
What are the most widespread health "rules" that women really don't need to be following?
The most common health rules that women don’t need to follow are to sleep eight hours per night, to always eat 5-7 servings of fruit and vegetables per day, to formally exercise an hour per day, to avoid stress at all costs, and to spend time with friends no matter what.
How can women gauge whether they are living a "healthy enough" life?
There are a number of indicators of health -- the one we ignore the most is how we actually feel. Take sleep recommendations for example. Women are constantly told that we need at least eight straight hours of sleep per night in order to avoid illness and obesity. Not only does the research show that people who sleep seven hours per night live the longest, but sleeping too many hours at night is just as bad for you as sleeping too little. If you are sleeping six or seven or eight hours a night and you feel energetic and happy during the day, that means that you are sleeping the right amount for you.
To be healthy you should be eating good food (you know, fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean meats and fish, etc) but allowing yourself treats from time to time so that you achieve an 80/20 balance of good to not so good. You need to be active -- you don’t have to go to the gym for an hour a day, but you do need to be physically active throughout most days. If you can walk a mile in under 20 minutes, you are out of the highest risk category.
What food/exercise/sleep regimens do you follow, and what’s your favorite “vice”?
Susan Love: I try to eat mostly fruits and vegetables but have trouble keeping to it on the road. I exercise at least every other day and sleep is easy for me, but I can do fine with six to seven hours. My vice is that I like a glass of wine and sometimes two at the end of the day.
Alice D. Domar: I follow the 80/20 eating plan pretty consistently, and my vice is definitely chocolate. Dark of course! I exercise daily -- I walk my younger daughter to school every day for about 30 minutes, use my stationery bike for 30 minutes three times per week, and take longer power walks with my husband on weekends. In terms of sleep, like many other 51-year-old women, sleep is not as easy as it once was, but I have learned to accept the middle of the night periods of calm wakefulness and actually feel pretty chipper most days.
Are you at all concerned that your book will give readers the sense that they can now completely self-indulge?
Most women welcome the recognition that they have enough common sense to figure things out for themselves. And where you are in your life matters as well. When you are young with a toddler on each hip, you do not need to weight train. You are weight training. As you age, if you don’t use it you lose it, and regular exercise becomes more important.
What we are seeing now is genuine appreciation from the women who have read the book and criticism from those who haven’t! It is easy to read the cover, or a review, and misinterpret the message we are trying to convey. We are most definitely not endorsing morbid obesity or a couch potato existence. We are simply trying to show women how they can live a pretty healthy life in a joyful way.
What’s next for you?
Susan Love: I am working hard to find the cause of breast cancer and how to prevent it through my own research and by coordinating the Love/Avon Army of women, which encourages all women to become part of the solution by signing up to consider participating in research. So far we have 325,000 women of all ages!
Alice D. Domar: I am working on a new book, on how to live a regret-free life. Both Susan and I are continuing to focus our efforts on the new web site, BeWell.com
Susan Love, M.D., MBA is a cofounder of BeWell and is a clinical professor of surgery at UCLA. She is the president of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the eradication of breast cancer. She is one of the founders and a director of the National Breast Cancer Coalition and served a six-year term as a Clinton appointee to the National Cancer Advisory Board.
Alice D. Domar, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health, the director of Mind/Body Services at Boston IVF, and an assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School. She is considered one of the top women’s health experts in the country, and is an Expert for BeWell.com.