Conversation with Phil: “The Big Book of Health and Fitness” is Here!

My good friend Bill Katovsky, who is the author of several books as well as the editorial director of the Natural Running Center, recently had a conversation with me over several emails about my new book that is now in stores. We covered a wide range of topics, from stretching and weight loss to cancer screening to footwear. Please enjoy our lively exchange below. -- Phil

BK: What prompted you to write this new book?

PM: One cannot write about the topic of health and fitness without updating it often. It’s what I’ve always done in the past—write something then update and improve it as new research catches up with clinical information. In The Big Book of Health and Fitness, I was also able to provide information that served to answer hundreds of questions from people who emailed them to my website about issues not addressed in previous writings. This provided a significant amount of new material.

BK: How does it differ from the last edition of In Fitness and In Health that came out in 2009?

PM: The Big Book of Health and Fitness has nearly twice the information. And it’s over 500 pages—nearly twice the length! There are better explanations, more case histories, and additional topics and chapters. Overall, it’s the most comprehensive book I’ve ever wrote. I really was able to get my points across for all the issues. Plus, there are many more delicious recipes.

BK: And how does The Big Book of Health and Fitness differ from The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing that came out last year?

PM: They are companions. The Big Book of Health and Fitness is also important for all athletes seeking to further improve their health to build more fitness, get more energy, burn more body fat and reduce injuries. While there is some overlap with The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing, the new book provides much more information on helping athletes understand more about diet and nutrition, stress, avoiding disease, with plenty of new information on gait, video analysis, and running.

BK: What do you mean by the phrase “self-health care” in The Big Book of Health and Fitness?

PM: This has been my primary teaching point from the first day in private practice almost 35 years ago until the present, and it’s what I personally practice everyday. Essentially, it means each person being responsible for his or her health and fitness. Only by doing that can optimal wellness, graceful aging and true illness and disease prevention be achieved. In addition, it’s the ultimate answer to the nation’s, and the world’s, health-care problem. Surrendering our bodies and personal control to health insurance companies, medical providers, or the government to dictate our health needs, which is what too many people are doing now, simply does not work. The continuous and dramatic rise in health-care costs, and ongoing fall in quality of life clearly demonstrates the failure of that approach. Self-health care is about caring for one’s body first, through improved lifestyle factors such as diet, stress control and physical activity, then using doctors and other professionals if and when the need arises.

BK: What new topics are covered The Big Book of Health and Fitness?

PM: There are entirely new chapters on topics such as gait and balance, how to keep your muscles and bones balanced to avoid aches and pain, and serious injury, and an important one for every adult called “Healthy Sex,” which details many aspects of this topic from enjoyment to reproduction. In addition to providing details of maintaining a healthy and highly functioning brain, for example, I discuss the specific issue of Alzheimer’s disease and how you can prevent it through good nutrition, more practical ways to avoid cancer and heart disease, and how to easily care for oneself later in life. The list can go on and on, so this is only a small sampling.

BK: The first section of the book is all about diet and nutrition; is this key to optimal health?

PM: It could be the key for some people, and it’s certainly a primary aspect of optimal health for everyone. Many people are attracted to specific features of health or fitness while ignoring others. But this is not holistic and much less effective. For example, some people focus on their diet while ignoring fitness, but can’t reach their goals whether it’s weight loss, improving energy or recovering from chronic illness. Others work out many hours each week and still can’t lose the extra pounds of body fat. By combining the diet and nutritional factors that best match one’s need with easy physical activity, high levels of both health can fitness can be achieved. And, it can be done easier that most imagine.

BK: How come there are so many diet and weight-loss books, many of them bestsellers, yet Americans are as fat as ever, and the obesity problem is only getting worse.

PM: The short answer is obvious: these off-the-shelf programs don’t work for most people. In fact, most are unhealthy. While some people may lose weight initially, it usually comes back, plus additional pounds. That’s because most diets can slow the metabolism, resulting in reduced fat burning—essentially starvation—and causing a rebound effect of gaining weight in the long term. In addition, most people who diet consume inadequate nutrients; not just calories but less vitamins and minerals, further reducing their overall health.

BK: It often seems that you have been writing and lecturing for years on certain subjects that only now seem to be in the news. For example, take the recent findings that says it is actually harmful for most men taking screening tests for prostate cancer.

PM: For many years I’ve discussed PSA (prostate-specific antigen) testing for men, and other routine evaluations, such as mammography for women, and why these so-called preventive tests can be misleading and often result in unnecessary stress, expense and medical treatment, including surgery and drugs. In men with normal PSA levels, it’s been shown that about 15 percent do have cancer, and in others, when the test is abnormally high, up to 75 percent may be cancer-free. In addition, reported PSA levels can vary considerable from one laboratory to another, and chronic inflammation anywhere in the body can increase PSA levels even in those with normal prostates.

There’s certainly a time and place for these evaluations, but it must match a person’s particular need rather than be recommended to the masses. My opinion is driven by the published medical research and other information that’s been building for decades. For a long time, the medical industry used marketing scare tactics to generate income from these tests. Rather than performing a proper evaluation of a patient it’s become more common to just perform tests. Directly and indirectly, patients are paying for all that high-tech equipment that keeps being developed. Like with drugs, there’s an important place in healthcare for these procedures—it’s the abuse of technology, which has replaced personalized care that’s the real problem.

BK: Let’s consider another topic in the news—vitamin D and the sun. Please elaborate.

PM: This is another case of cosmetics companies, and others who make sunscreen, using propaganda to sell their products, scaring people into believing the sun is bad. It’s been going on for decades, and one result is a dramatic rise in vitamin D deficiency, even in sunny locations such as Arizona and Florida. This has further reduced the health of tens of millions of people, who have developed brain, bone, muscle, immune, and other problems due to the lack of adequate vitamin D, which we primarily get from the sun. During this same period, skin cancer has risen dramatically. In The Big Book of Health and Fitness, I discuss the latest research on melanoma and other sun-skin disorders, and how people can avoid them, and obtain healthy sun exposure.

BK: Then there's the issue of stretching. You are against it for almost all athletes and active people. Why is this so? And why are so many people still dead-set about regularly doing stretching?

PM: Tradition is powerful. It too often takes the place of logic, common sense and scientific research. In my early years of practice, it became very clear that those who stretched had more physical imbalances and injures than those who didn’t. Today, research is showing the same thing. In this book, I discuss many of these issues. In particular, I address flexibility and why too much or too little can be a serious problem, and how to obtain enough without stretching.

BK: The same can be said for footwear. Most shoes, either for everyday use or for walking and running, seem to injure our feet over the long-term. So how does one break free of this unhealthy addiction? What do you wear most of the day?

PM: Usually, most of the day I’m barefoot. If I’m traveling I wear very flat sandals or shoes. The wrong shoes contribute to many physical problems people have—not just in the feet, but knees, hips, low back and even higher up in the body. What began as a great, healthy idea—spending more time being barefoot, which also helps rehabilitate the feet—has turned into a barefoot bandwagon of large footwear companies selling so-called minimalist and barefoot shoes. It’s so misguided and full of twisted ideas, and has become difficult to tell which of these minimalist shoes are good ones. All the companies want to sell you a better mousetrap, but the best shoes are usually the simplest and cheapest. Those of us who have experienced the transition from flat footwear of the 1960s and 70s to thick and over-supported shoes beginning in the 1980s until today have a very different and real perspective of this issue. Most so-called experts of today have not witnessed this change, which has contributed to more physical injuries. An example is that yesterday’s footwear was much flatter and healthier than today’s minimalist versions and even racing shoes.

BK: I can't help but ask. Do you listen to music while you write?

PM: I usually don’t, instead preferring quiet surroundings. But I often have music in my head while I write. In fact, once the creative process of writing about health and fitness takes over, it’s not unusual for me to leave my computer, pick up a guitar or go to the piano, and write a new song.

BK: Where does most of your best creative thinking come from? Sitting in front of the computer, or going for a hike in the desert right out your backyard?

PM: It can be anywhere because that creativity is almost always brewing in my brain. I’ve pulled off the road while driving to write songs or take down notes for a new essay I have been working on for my website. I’ve even excused myself from a social gathering to do the same. While flying, I’m usually sitting there with eyes closed actively being very creative about something in my mind. Too often, we feel the need to be constantly distracted by noise and visual stimuli—from iPods to iPads. This can often distract from the creative process. The question about where creativity comes from has a simple answer—the brain.

BK: Any concluding thoughts?

PM: Overall, I feel for the first time in my long writing career that I’ve succeeded by explaining, in simple but complete terms, the many complex issues about health and fitness, while providing readers with clear information on what to do next. There’s important and new information for everyone in this new book; the material helps the reader individualize his or her lifestyle in a way that can quickly get results. The book also makes a handy reference guide that readers can refer to whenever health issues arise about the body or diet, or when the media reports on the “latest” fad. Armed with this important knowledge, individuals can better care for themselves, for their family, and help others who need access to this information.

See the Table of Contents

© 2006-2015 Philip Maffetone