Web edition: June 1, 2012
Print edition: June 16, 2012; Vol.181 #12 (p. 30)
Don’t be misled. This book’s satirical title is sorted out in the subtitle: “Untangling Twisted Messages about Health, Fitness, and Happiness.” That’s the task at hand, and Caulfield leaves few myths unassailed.
He predictably takes a hammer to pseudoscience such as homeopathy. As hundreds or maybe thousands of studies have found, it just doesn’t work. But it is heartening to see him also take on stretching, which some still see as a victim of “mixed studies.” In reality, study after study has shown that stretching largely fails at its main goal: injury prevention. Cold stretching before exercise, a staple for sports teams and in physical therapy offices, actually risks injury itself. Caulfield cites a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention review of more than 350 studies on stretching that couldn’t find its elusive benefits.
Caulfield’s forthright manner is refreshing in a book that actually provides practical health information. He asserts — probably correctly — that eating too much “could very well be the single biggest health issue of the modern age.” That’s a mouthful, but he backs it up with data from the World Health Organization. Caulfield then grapples with this and other challenges firsthand, subjecting himself to diets, resistance training and more to test what he has learned, providing an amusing journey.
Alas, he delivers the shocking news that most of us will never have rippling abs despite persuasive infomercials. Oh, the horror. Worse yet, people still find flat bellies to be a pleasant eyeful, he says, because of evolutionary programming. “To a savanna-dwelling early man looking for a hot date ... a taut tummy advertised that there was neither a baby on the way nor a new one at home consuming valuable, hard-to-find savanna resources.” Well, that explains it.
Beacon Press, 2012, 234 p., $24.95