Dr Joe Baker
Lifestyle advice given to all patients: “Exercise is good for you! Thirty minutes a day for five days a week. That’s the recommended minimum. Enough to make you a bit puffy. An hour every day is even better but there are diminishing returns.”
I often ask my patients, “Have you seen 23½ Hours?” The inevitable reply: “Is that about the guy who falls down the crevice and has to cut off his leg?” “No,” I say, “that’s 127 Hours, and it was his arm. And although there are probably some very serious health messages in that feature film, 23½ Hours is a very watchable ten minute video about the benefits of exercise. Exercise helps almost any medical condition.” I am careful not to say it helps ALL conditions; there are few absolutes in medicine. I show them the link on the computer:
A few patients have radically altered their lifestyles after watching this. Most haven’t.
I am walking to the Puketeraki Lookout near Karitane, just north of Dunedin. The once corpulent Stephen Fry lost tens of kilograms by altering his diet and walking. He would strut along listening to novels on his iPod. I imagine him magnificently striding the London streets listening to Nicole Kidman reading Virginia Woolf.
For proponents of both exercise and great literature, this combination is a case of resuscitating two birds with one stone. Satan’s advocate will try to deflect that stone. “Listening is not the same as reading. For a start there is an intermediary. Nicole is putting her own intonation on what Virginia really meant. And she’s Australian!” But come on. Not everyone has eight, ten, twelve hours – or more – to sit down and read a novel. Surely listening to Nicole read Virginia is better than never hearing Virginia’s words at all. And if, as with many modern works, the book is actually narrated by the author, then we know exactly the voice the author was trying to convey. And when it comes to plays, surely listening is better than reading? Getting people out exercising AND listening to great works is surely beneficial.
I near the Puketeraki Lookout with iPod in situ.
Porter: …Therefore, much drink may be said to be an equivocator with lechery. It makes him, and it mars him; it sets him on, and it takes him off; it persuades him, and disheartens him; makes him stand to, and not stand to…”
Macbeth Act II Scene III
Macbeth has just murdered King Duncan! High drama indeed. Audaciously, Shakespeare lessens the intensity by having a bawdy porter perform stand-up. Some of the audience will analyse the lewd commentary and find deeper meaning. Others will be too busy laughing, recognising the well known side effects of ‘much drink’. No large scale randomised double blind studies needed for that one.
Lifestyle advice given to most patients: “Reduce your alcohol consumption.”
My 2015 BBC recording of Macbeth has the porter coming on stage at 36 minutes and 26 seconds. You can easily replay the passage with the push of a button, time and time again if you wish. Revisiting any favourite work is comforting. Like a childhood soft toy with its familiar smell and touch, it can console and shroud you from a real world which has momentarily become quite horrible for you. It welcomes you home. “Where have you been?” it asks. “We missed you. Please come in. Sit down and have some sustenance before you once again venture into the fray.”
Lifestyle advice given to some patients: “Every day take time out for a beautiful poem, for a beautiful passage of literature, for a beautiful piece of music, and for a beautiful painting. The internet makes this all very easy.”
My hour of puffy exercise is nearly up. I am dismayed by the amount of litter on the roadside. Then, truly, an unconstructed image: an empty beer can and next to it an empty packet of Sildenafil tablets. How did these two items get together, one that held alcohol and one that held tablets licensed for erectile dysfunction problems? Were they randomly blown towards each other? Or were they both thrown from a car window at the same time? Had the litterer (undoubtedly a ‘he’) found his own solution to the problem of ‘much drink’? Perhaps he read it in a book. Blast. That would make it one of the few pieces of literary lifestyle advice I can’t recommend.
Lifestyle advice given to some patients: “Read great literature (okay, you can listen to it on audiobooks). We’re all looking for solutions to our ills, but the works of Woolf, Austen, Orwell, Atwood, Waugh – and countless others – literally offer their own novel advice for many of our modern day health woes.”
Dr Joe Baker: Joe Baker is a GP in Dunedin, New Zealand.