12/03/2013 11:57 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2014

The Logic of Gifting Health

My fellow Star Trek fans will of course recall Mr. Spock's signature delivery of the customary Vulcan hand gesture accompanied by the traditional salutation: "live long and prosper." The ever-logical Vulcans seemingly departed from that penchant for the sake of an aspiration, the wish for a long and vital life.

As aspirations go, it's a very good one. Assuming prosperity is not limited to the relatively meager currency of money but extends to all forms of affluence that truly matter -- vitality, solidarity, love, and contentment -- then there is no more logical or gracious wish. That kind of comprehensive prosperity, in the context of living long, means both a bounty of years in life and a bounty of life in those years. It doesn't get any better than that: a life both long and good. But it requires no legendary capacity for logic to acknowledge that wishing for things doesn't tend to make them so. Aspirations work well as destinations, but when it comes to getting there from here, action plans are much better. And, for whatever it's worth to the non-Vulcans among us, more logical as well.

So, this holiday season, as our own thoughts turn aspirational for ourselves and those we love, permit to suggest the logic of not just wishing for health and long life, but gifting them. I believe the right approach allows for exactly that.

What approach? Well, for example, the approach we take to literacy. To the best of my knowledge, neither the Vulcans, nor any Homo sapien culture, has a customary salutation that goes: "live long and be literate." It would be illogical to the point of silliness to wish for something that doesn't just happen on its own, but which we certainly can both learn and teach. As evidence of our mastery over that very process, I submit this column -- which I've written, and you are reading. The defense of literacy by action plan rather than aspiration rests.

And, of course, everything else that matters in our lives is treated much the same way. What we want -- for ourselves and those about whom we care the most -- we commit to, work for, and learn what's needed to get there from here. Success is never entirely guaranteed, of course. We can work hard for "prosperity" and never wind up rich. But our chances for true prosperity are greatly advanced by working for it and not advanced at all by wishing for it. And even if that work doesn't result in a lifestyle of the rich and famous, it almost certainly makes us more prosperous than we would otherwise be.

Just the same is true of health. You can learn what it takes to get there from here. You can practice it. You can share it. You can pay it forward.

I already had this column in mind when the Vulcan reference occurred to me. The Vulcan reference had already occurred to me before I recognized what it really signifies.

Much as we might wish to have such honorable and intrepid neighbors, there are no Vulcans. We invented them and imparted to them that legendary devotion to logic. Yet our own concept of health is so fundamentally passive, that even in the context of that otherwise pristine logic, we made vitality a wish, not an approach. We projected onto the Vulcans our will for health, yet failed to consider that analytical beings would long since have worked out the way. This is, in a word, illogical.

Health is not happenstance, and DNA is not destiny. While we are inescapably subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and while none of us gets a guarantee of vitality any more than we get a guarantee of prosperity, overwhelmingly we are -- or could be -- masters of our fate. With the right set of skills, learned and applied, we can slash our risk of all chronic disease. We can control our weight -- not just for the next six weeks, but for a lifetime. We can dramatically enhance our chances for more years in life, and more life in years. And because the benefits of skills we have, unlike drugs we take or surgeries we undergo, can be shared -- and in fact work better when they are shared -- we can pay skillpower for health forward. We can dramatically enhance the prospect for health and long life for those we love. And then the virtuous circle comes fully around, because in that unity is strength -- and by sharing skills for healthy living, we fortify our own prospects for getting there from here.

I have the skill set for getting to health, because as a preventive medicine physician, that's my job. A pilot is supposed to know how to fly. A teacher is supposed to know how to read. In just the same way, I know how to be healthy. And like flying, and reading, being healthy is both teachable, and learnable. The requisite skill set is accessible to all.

So, permit me to suggest that this holiday season, you don't just wish for health, you gift it. I have put the entire skill set on which I rely into my new book, Disease Proof. It's an action plan for that Vulcan aspiration. Admittedly, it is self-serving to propose my book as a gift, but I am doing just that, and with limited reluctance. Yes, it would be good for me. But I didn't write the book to sell the book; I wrote the book to do good. But it can only do good if people read it. And as you will see from the reviews of Disease Proof by both diverse experts whose names you will likely know, and diverse readers whose names you will not, it is very likely to do you good if you read it. So this is a case of doing well by doing good -- and I think that's fine for both of us.

What's not fine is to keep on hoping for health. The best way to predict the future of health -- our own, and that of our loved ones -- is to create it. Simply wishing for what we could choose to make happen is extremely illogical.

So permit me to suggest you get, and give, the gift that truly keeps on giving: the skill set for losing weight, finding health, living long, and prospering. I believe all of us want those things for ourselves and those we love. Gifting that opportunity, rather than merely wishing for it, is only logical.


DISEASE PROOF is available in bookstores nationwide and at:

Dr. David L. Katz;

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