Galley Girl: A Talk with a Pop Doc

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Dr. Mehmet Oz, who would win any competition that counted diplomas, wants you to take better care of yourself. For that reason, Oz, a renowned heart surgeon, has left the safe confines of Columbia University, where he is a professor, and dared to venture into the wilds of popular culture. He's appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show, and has been named one of People magazine's "Sexiest Men Alive.". His newest foray, You: The Owner's Manual written with Dr. Michael F. Roizen (HarperCollins), has landed him at the top of the bestsellers lists. Galley Girl caught him on the way to the operating room:

Galley Girl: Do you have any ambivalence about making the journey into pop culture?

Mehmet Oz: Big time, big time. The safer thing, obviously, is to do my day job, which I'm reasonably good at, and continue to publish in our medical journals, and to be there at conferences. But I realize that we're often preaching to the choir. The people who need to hear the messages are not sitting in our conference halls.

GG: Why this particular book?

MO: To deal with a chronic problem I have. I would talk to the patients in my office and lead off the discussion by saying, "You're here not for an operation, but for an opinion." And I continued to be struck at how many misperceptions cloud the view that patients have. I realized that the only way I was ever going to really make a dent, an epidemiologically significant dent, was to write a book of this nature that explains what I think I know about how the human body works in a way that people could understand.

GG: Who's your target audience?

MO: We sought a population that generally doesn't even read health books—men. It's biased towards men because women [will] read it anyway. The big significant fact about health in America is that women drive it. There are 25 million caregivers, and they're almost all women. Women get the health messages. When people come to my office from a distance, it's always the women who bring them, not the men.

GG: What's your advice to the classic couch potato, sitting in front of the TV eating burgers?

MO: By incorporating a half an hour of walking, nothing more, into your life, you can dramatically change the quality of that life, and your longevity. That doesn't mean a half an hour of walking per se, but rather incorporating it into what you do every day. For example, use the stairs at work. Walk a little further to the mall. Just the things you do normally.

GG: What about for the person who is sort of interested in exercise, sort of interested in diet. Anything they can do to kick it into gear?

MO: Yes--go nuts. The nuts you eat, especially the healthy ones—walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts—have healthy fats in them. Adding a few nuts as snacks before you eat your main meals will satiate you. You'll feel full earlier, and for that reason, you won't eat as much. It's a simple way, without making a huge change in your lifestyle. The other thing that "nuts" stand for is "nagging unfinished tasks." There are two kinds of stress that age us. There are the big life events—your mom dies. Everyone acknowledges that those are big issues for humans to cope with, but they're not that many of them. The other kind of stress that hurts you is not the stress at work, it's not the stress from driving— it's the nagging unfinished tasks, the torn screen door that you walk past every single day. You know you have to deal with it, but you never get around to it.

GG: What about the person who is exercising, exercising, exercising. Can people overdo it?

MO: Once you get past an hour of exercise, there's no incremental value in your longevity to more exercise. So you can do it, but you're doing it because you enjoy it, not because you're going to live any longer or better. Most people get an hour, an hour and a half of running, or swimming, but they don't do weight work, or stretching work. Those are small time commitments, but they're incredibly important.

GG: How can there be an obesity epidemic in the United States with so many diet books?

MO: All the diets work, but no one stays on them. At the end of a year, only 5% of people on a particular diet will have stayed on it. I tell people, I don't care what diet you're on, just pick one and stay on it. It really doesn't matter. The only important fact is that you're losing the weight.