The Book of Dos and Don'ts: Living A Long and Healthy Life

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It’s the size of a small day planner – remember those? – and it’s intended to be used the same way.

A Short Guide to a Long Life is the latest effort from celebrity doctor David Agus. He’s a leading oncologist and a New York Times bestselling author, also well-known to TV audiences as a regular on CBS. This tiny book is a list of to-dos and to-don’ts, followed by a health checklist for every decade of your life. Eat your meal sat the same time every day, stay away from bad ingredients and fad diets, check your blood pressure and pulse often. Those are just three of his 65 instructions, which range from common-sense bromides to a call for almost obsessive monitoring of bodily functions.

Agus comes by his passion for prevention honestly.

“At least twice a week, I tell a patient I have nothing left in my arsenal to combat his or her cancer,” he writes.

He is frustrated by the limits of modern medicine. But “more infuriating still is that many of my patients could have prevented their cancer or other life-altering disease had they just adopted a few healthy habits early on and avoided the ones that lead to illness.”

For me, that comes uncomfortably close to victim-blaming, let alone being a big oversimplification. When we talked, however, Agus was more judicious about just how many of those cancers could have been prevented.

“It’s a tough question,” he told me. But he cited figures in the 60 to 70 per cent range – figures that other experts would dispute.

When I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2008, one of my first questions was “Did I do anything to bring this on myself?”

In Emergency, an intern had suggested that drinking might be the cause when I told him I have wine regularly, in moderation. My oncologist scoffed when I ran this by him. “You’d have to drink an awful lot,” he told me, explaining that even in my case where I have a genetic mutation that predisposes me to cancer, quite a few things have to go wrong at the molecular level before the disease takes root. That’s why it’s so tough to beat.

Of course, we could all lead longer, healthier lives if we ate well, maintained a healthy weight and did regular exercise, although none of that is a guarantee. We don’t need Agus to tell us that. Some of his suggestions are very helpful though hardly novel – eat more than three servings of cold-water fish a week and get your flu shot even if you never get sick. Some seem a bit strange – he advises against juicing, of all things. Apparently, it oxidizes the nutrients in fruits and vegetables. His “doctor’s orders” list of regular medical tests runs to 13 items for people in their 50s, more if you’re older. That’s an onerous schedule of doctor’s appointments, even by the standards of a cancer survivor like me.

He’s fixated on gathering data, urging us to listen, look at and feel our bodies’ features, to measure ourselves, even to get naked and take a good long look in front of a mirror. I think he’s onto something important here. Modern life makes it easy to lose touch with our bodies. And even if we notice, there’s a tendency to shrug off the kinds of changes that can signal illness. I know I did.

Why do we need a manual like this? Agus told me it was a response to the feedback he got after his first book The End of Illness. “People wanted prescriptive elements laid out, and that’s what I did.”

And his prescription has major celebrity endorsements, including Al Gore, Steven Spielberg and tech moguls Michael Dell and Larry Ellison. Maybe we need that.

A photo with a celebrity keeps me on track. It’s a picture with the actor Ted Danson, taken shortly before I was diagnosed, when he was in town promoting a charity. The encounter wasn’t particularly meaningful, and I look like hell in the shot. Every time I see it, I think, “How could I have not known that something was terribly wrong?” If this short guide does for you what that picture does for me, it is a great service.

Libby Znaimer ([email protected]) is VP of News on AM740 and Classical 96.3 FM (ZoomerMedia properties). Her book, In Cancerland: Living Well Is the Best Revenge (Key Porter), is available at

Zoomer magazine, June 2014

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