A Very Special Webster
Making Me Sick
by Daniel Radosh          

One thing I hate almost as much as exercising, eating well, or otherwise taking care of my body is listening to other people talk about exercising, eating well, or otherwise taking care of their bodies. Any sentence that begins, "I was at the gym..." or, worse, "I was roller-blading..." sends an instant signal to my brain to tune out. If other people want to live longer, look like Olympians, get high on endorphins or—more likely—fool themselves that they're doing any of those things, that's their business. As long as they don't exercise their mouths on the subject in my presence.

Curiously, the Web is no place to escape. Despite the fact that sitting in front of a computer is right up there with inhaling formaldehyde on the list of least-healthy activities, there is no shortage of Web sites dedicated to vim, vigor, and vitality.

Naturally, most of them exist to sell something—usually something you'd have to be very high on endorphins indeed to want to buy. "Eating captured sunlight will change your life," promises Earthrise. It can "detoxify our body, boost our immune system and fight disease and cancer." Of course, it's not literally captured sunlight so much as, well, algae. Spirulina, by name. "Twenty years ago, as we awakened to our environmental peril, spirulina caught our imagination as a new food offering new gifts." But wait, there's more! "Spirulina shows us it is far more than the highest protein food. It contains the DNA wisdom of an immortal life form." Dick Clark?

Not ready to start eating pond scum, even if it means life everlasting? Then check out what Dr. Myron Wentz of USANA is hawking. Or, as he puts it, "Join with me. Share my vision." Basically, his vision is vitamin supplements. It just takes him a little while and a lot of mumbo jumbo to build up to that. "Twenty years ago"—around the same time the rest of us awakened to our environmental peril—"I acquired a human cell culture that had been isolated in the 1950s and kept alive. I've continued growing this culture for another twenty years. Today, after 40 years of careful attention, I've observed that the cells are as healthy and free of disease as when they were isolated 40 years ago.

"This indicates that in an environment providing all the proper nutrients, and protection from toxic substances, certain types of human cells can survive indefinitely." It also indicates that Dr. Myron Wentz has way too much time on his hands.

Maybe instead of ingesting miracle cures, you're ready to get up from your computer and start working out. Or maybe you're ready to start working out without getting up from your computer. The Time Ryder Interactive Fitness Bike lets you play video games using the pedals as a controller. "You must pedal the exercise bike in order to play the game," goes the pitch. "Feel better and look better," and, most importantly for this audience, "end complaints about time spent on games." But, Mom! I'm exercising!

If you're looking for a body that says "muscleman" rather than "video-game addict," try Physique Techniques. Paul Thomas, a champion bodybuilder who "has returned to college to obtain a Bachelors Degree of Science in Nutrition" pushes his theory of "Metabolic Manipulation." It involves losing weight by eating more. How does that work? "The core of this technique is you! You are the determining factor to the success of the process." In other words, it doesn't work, but it's not his fault.

For a change of pace, Endurance Training Journal, the Journal of the Monomaniacal Endurance Athlete doesn't peddle snake oil. It is strictly informational. Unfortunately, however, it is written entirely in what seems to be Navajo code: "In designing your own Macro-Cycle, you should include within each the Meso-Cycle and the Micro-Cycle, an Off-Season, Pre-Season, and In-Season, and within each of these seasons you should have an active restoration phase or transitional period. These transitions can last anywhere from weeks to days, depending on how you feel or what the actual transition will involve." I think my transition will involve eating a pizza and watching Comedy Central.

Much more my own speed—quite literally—is The Super Slow Exercise Guild. Its goal, in addition to promoting really, really slow exercise, is "to express our collective disdain and intolerance for philosophies and practices such as:

  • Iso Kinetics
  • Plyometrics
  • Work Hardening
  • Specificity Training
  • Aerobics (with specific exceptions)
  • Cross-Training

What about eating algae?

Not all health advice is for people who want to be especially healthy. Sometimes it takes effort just to stay alive. At Workplace Safety and Health anyone who works near power lines should read the cautionary tale of a construction worker "electrocuted while guiding the placement of a structural steel column which came in bontact with a high voltage overhead line." Anyone who just wants a chuckle should see the charming illustration that accompanies this story. And what if you have a really unhealthy job that involves, say, inhaling formaldehyde? Here's a helpful hint: "Down-draft ventilation is considered the preferred method of ventilation in morgues."

There is even a Web site designed for medical emergencies. When Seconds Count has an eleven-step action plan for treating someone who has stopped breathing. Step One: "Tap victim's shoulder and call out name. Ask victim, 'Are you okay?'" Of course if you haven't already done at least that much in the six minutes it takes to download this site, you might as well start reading up on the preferred ventilation methods for morgues.

But all of this is for amateurs. Folks who do health for a living have their own Web sites. At Kaiser Permanente's Fremont Medical Center doctors and nurses can test their medical knowledge on fun quizzes with questions like, "What is a characteristic of allergic but not bacterial conjunctivitis? Itching; crusting; sticky discharge."

Then there's The Interactive Patient, a sad sack with aches and pains whom med students (or any slob, really) get to diagnose based on questioning, physical examination, and lab work. As an "I'm-not-a-doctor-but-I-play-one-on-the-Internet" game, The Interactive Patient is actually kind of fun. But the idea that real doctors are being trained on the Web is somewhat frightening. If your physician ever tries to prescribe algae, start running. And I don't mean for the exercise.

DANIEL RADOSH is a New York-based freelance writer who is a frequent contributor to the New York Press, Details, the New York Times Magazine and The Transom.
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