“Advice works only if you act on it”: A Woman’s Guide to Healthy Aging by Dr. Vivien Brown. M.D.

Research recently published by the American Cancer Society has found that 4 out of 10 cancers are preventable through modified lifestyle. That research comes as no surprise after reading Dr. Vivien Brown’s new book: A Woman’s Guide to Healthy Aging.  Her premise is that it’s up to women to “make the very best choices when it comes to the major modifiable factors that affect our long-term care health” (p. 72) Her role, as the physician, is to give the very best evidence-based advice and provide patients with encouragement to act on it.

“Advice works only if you act on it.”

Dr. Brown sets her book up as a conversation between herself and her women patients as she moves through the 7 chapters that address healthy aging: diet and nutrition, exercise and sleep, brain health, vaccine preventable diseases, menopause, heart health and bone health. The simplicity of the structure contributes to the easy read; women can read a chapter a day, incorporating small to big changes that could potentially add not just years but quality years to their lives. Or, they can sit down and read it right through; the tone is light, the information is compelling.

If you’re looking for the latest herbal remedy or alternative treatment, you won’t find it here. Dr. Brown’s advice is evidence-based and Health Canada and FDA approved. Her key message is that it’s never too late to begin to live a healthier life and that changes to lifestyle, meaning diet and exercise, make a significant impact to our health.

Diet and nutrition begins the conversation because what you eat impacts so much of your health. Obesity is a looming shadow on the nation’s health, with 25% of Canadians today considered obese, twice as high as the number in 1981 which may lead to declining rates of life expectancy.

Exercise and sleep go hand in hand and Dr. Brown encourages women to “live athletic” as she extolls the benefits of regular exercise especially for people with chronic disease. Her advice is to “embrace it and pace it”. Sleep often takes a back seat so that other things can get done and she draws on the work of Arianna Huffington who first brought our attention to how sleep deprived most of us are.

Diet and nutrition, exercise and sleep: these are clearly lifestyle choices. As Dr. Brown shifts the conversation to the body, she demonstrates the ways that these lifestyle changes impact our brain, our menopausal change, our hearts and our bones. Particularly welcome is Dr. Brown’s discussion of hormone replacement therapy, now called hormone therapy or menopausal hormone therapy. HT/MHT has been found to be beneficial if used early in the menopausal process, but can be risky if used in older patients.

Immunization and vaccines get a whole chapter as she carefully takes the reader through the science behind vaccines and addresses the immunization needs of women as they age. She recommends pregnant women get immunized in order to pass on passive antibodies to their newborns and women over 50 to get the shingles vaccine.  And, of course, she encourages everyone to get the flu shot.

Women are the audience for this book, and don’t let the title fool you; although it deals with “aging” the foundation for successful aging lies in youth. This book would be a good resource for doctors to provide to their female patients as a primer on how to maximize their relationship with their doctor as well as providing women with the information they need to make healthy lifestyle choices. Not too much information to be overwhelming, but just enough to give women language and knowledge about their health so they can have healthy conversations with their own family physician.

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Globe and Mail, September 10, 2017.