Guardian Australia’s book club: join Norman Swan on health, freedom, and the idea of ‘normal’

It’s 5am and Norman Swan is writing. He feels “totally crap” after creaking out of bed, brushing his teeth, and wondering why he ever thought he could get a six pack. If he thinks about it, he’s got pain in his legs and one shoulder from post-exercise soreness.

“My point is,” he writes, “that it’s normal to feel crap in the morning, to have aches and pains no matter what age you are, and it’s normal to oscillate between feeling great, anxious, relaxed and energised several times a day.”

What’s normal – when it comes to mind and body – forms one of the touchstones of So You Think You Know What’s Good for You?, a new book billed as “the ultimate health guide from Australia’s most trusted doctor” by the ABC’s resident medico and health broadcaster.

It’s a big call, but after a year full of medical misconceptions and half-truths muddying the waters on health, Swan’s commonsense cut-through has seen his popularity rise.

Based on questions he regularly receives from viewers and listeners of his Coronacast podcast, the book is a compendium of medical, lifestyle and health analysis based on the latest research. It also takes a philosophical approach, as Swan casts a wide net about life choices and circumstances, what we can control and what we can’t.

“There are two fundamental concepts that sit behind this book,” he writes. “The first is that there’s no such thing as a split between mind and body … what goes on in our brains affects every part of our bodies and what goes on in our heart, arteries, gut, and even our feet affects our brain and our mind.

“It’s why decisions we make about our lives and how to feel good are so important and intertwined.”

The other fundamental concept is one of control: “There are lots of important things in life but when it comes down to the wire, I reckon – and there’s evidence to support it – control is the one that matters most.”

It’s not about being a control freak, Swan says, but rather being in control of your destiny: “Making decisions which give you independence and an ability to chart your own course, whether that be in your personal life, with kids if or when you have them, and at work.

“But it’s also about not feeling oppressed by others who might want to constrain your life and work in some way.”

So You Think You Know What’s Good for You? covers a lot of territory, which is broken down into seven parts: What you put into yourself; What you take out of yourself (and making sure it’s not too much); Living younger longer; The wellbeing thing; Dominated by devices; The sex thing; and What about the kids?

Want to join the conversation?

Register here to join Dr Norman Swan and Guardian Australia features editor Lucy Clark at 1pm, Friday 9 July for a wide-ranging discussion that will take in nutrition, stress, longevity, sleep, sex, mental health, the Greek paradox and more.


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