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Sustainable Wellness

Book Review of: Sustainable Wellness

An Integrative Approach to Transform your Mind, Body, and Spirit

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Review of Sustainable Wellness, by Dr. Matt Mumber, MD and Heather Reed (Softcover, 2012)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)


The authors have good advice. I don't recall any errors of fact. But I believe their emphasis is a bit off the mark. For many readers, however, this particular mix may be exactly right. If it's not, there's no problem incorporating the material with other accurate books to balance things out as you deem appropriate.

About that emphasis. The traditional "three legged stool of health" has the three legs of nutrition, exercise, and rest. The authors change those legs to nutrition, physical activity, and stress management. The seat of their stool is spirituality, and the stool rests on a platform of awareness. Noticeably absent is any mention of sleep, which is the primary component of "rest" in the traditional stool. As serious sleep deficiency is widespread, this strikes me as a major omission. Perhaps the authors believe that if you get everything else right, the sleep will take care of itself. The reader needs to add "proper rest and adequate sleep" to the recommendations of this book. For most people, sleep issues constitute a major health challenge.

Before I go much further, I want to note that I have not been sick since 1971 despite being born with an immune deficiency. This is not due to mere luck, but to faithfully following a healthy lifestyle. That's nutrition, exercise, and rest. I might call my stool seat "mental/emotional" and that's where I'd lump in stress management, spirituality, and awareness; I see those as being subcategories of "mental/emotional" and not on the same level of taxonomy or hierarchy as nutrition, exercise, and rest.

The bulk of this book deals with those mental/emotional subjects. These are certainly important, and the authors address these quite competently. However, only 47 pages address nutrition and exercise.

Now, I don't want to give the impression that the authors treated nutrition and exercise as afterthoughts. The chapter on nutrition covers the gamut from considering the environmental or social impact of your food choices (I think this is very important but too few people give it enough thought) to which foods are likely to have the most or least pesticides to selecting by color. The authors also address mindful eating, the inflammation diet, and choosing whole foods, among other issues that ring my personal bell. And they obviously know this material. I think it would have been good to split this up into three chapters, with more development of the material. That would balance the book a bit better.

The chapter on physical activity includes copious amounts of uncommon "common sense," but much of the information comes from the "heart rate" camp and I don't adhere to that. You won't find this in, for example, hugely successful programs like Body For Life. I'm thinking the difference here is athletes train one way, and non-athletes train another way. In various sports including several martial arts styles, cross-country running, basketball, and climbing, I've never trained with a heart monitor or even heard it suggested whether the training was sport-specific or weight lifting.

For weight lifters, intensity has nothing to do with your max heart rate percent. It's about how rapidly you deplete the muscle under tension. That said, watch a serious weight lifter finish a set of front squats or dead lifts. Usually, that person is breathing very heavily with heart pounding. I've never measured my heart rate during this kind of training, but I can tell you it's pretty maxed out. The body just cannot deliver enough oxygen to those muscles, and the heart goes to "all out" mode.

If you're not an athlete, you probably should use this heart rate method until you are conditioned to the point where your rising heart rate is an effect of your training rather than a goal of it. So, I think it fits this book. Toward the end of this chapter, there's excellent coverage of various exercises that you don't need any equipment to do. These are effective exercises, not just some go through the motions stuff. This particular selection makes a whole lot of sense.

So, the authors don't ignore nutrition and exercise. It's just that they emphasize the mental/emotional aspects of health. And those are what this book is really about. The relevant chapter titles are Mindfulness, Know Thyself, Life Review and Planning, Stress Management, and Spirituality. The final chapter discusses how to start your own plan based on what you just read so you can integrate that with how you live. Pretty good advice, there.

How do the authors fare in their coverage of stress management? I wrote a course on this very subject some years ago, and have definitely undergone more than my "share" of stress. While their approach differs from the one I used (and live by), I still give them an A. They made this the third leg of the stool, and they provided a good system for handling what comes your way.

Spirituality is a touchy subject, because it so often gets confused with religion. The authors did steer clear of advocating particular religious beliefs, and the chapter on spirituality may be helpful to readers who are struggling with that part of their lives.

Interestingly, they don't have a chapter on Awareness despite showing that as the foundation for their three-legged stool. But the second chapter is on mindfulness. This is a state of being that is a bit rare in our culture. Indeed, most people move through life in a near-zombie mode instead of paying attention, focusing, and being aware. This mindfulness is something that martial artists achieve early on in their training, for reasons that seem obvious if you think about it. But how many people really pay attention at work? In conversations with friends?

Give a child or a pet your full focused attention, being fully in the moment, and watch what happens. This is not normally what happens in the encounter. Do you know why carrying a cell phone does not make you safer? Aside from the fact that when seconds count the cops are only minutes away, a person chatting away on a cell phone is not paying attention to his/her surroundings. That lack of mindfulness is what creates the danger.

Overall, a pretty good book. It's one that the typical reader will find useful and informative.

The text runs 175 pages, preceded by a foreword, preface, and introduction.


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