THE CORE PROGRAM: 15 Minutes a Day That Can Change Your Life, By Peggy W. Brill with Gerald Secor Couzens , Bantam Books $24.95, 256 pages.
Physical therapist Peggy Brill has pulled together an excellent program for women (although men could clearly benefit too) that focuses on strengthening the body's core--the muscles of the abdomen, back, hips and pelvis. These support the spine, determine posture and body alignment and give us the strength not only to exercise, but also to get through basic daily motions--getting up from a chair, lifting a child, arranging furniture.
Several types of exercise, such as Pilates and yoga, target this part of the body, and Brill has incorporated some of the best and most effective stretching and strengthening movements from these disciplines. Most can be done with just an exercise mat by people at all fitness levels, although everyone--especially folks with injuries--should talk to a doctor before embarking on a new exercise program.
Brill lays out several routines, building a foundation upon which more complicated exercises can be added. She explains the purpose of each exercise, describes the proper position and gives clear instructions. All of this is accompanied by photographs of Brill demonstrating the exercises and offering tips on what to do--and not do--to avoid injury.
She also includes resistance programs, using hand weights, leg weights and exercise machines. One of the assets of this volume is Brill herself, who looks fit, strong and healthy, but not unnecessarily thin.
THE FORGETTING: Alzheimer's: Portrait of an Epidemic, By David Shenk , Doubleday, $24.95, 290 pages
Many great minds, going back to ancient times, were eventually plagued by a particularly cruel mental decline that today is universally feared by elderly people. It wasn't until 1910, however, that this condition was named for Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a 37-year-old German neuropathologist who linked the disorientation, hallucinations and inability to communicate to plaques and tangles in brain tissue.
Jonathan Swift, author of "Gulliver's Travels," was among the legions of sufferers. Once, according to author David Shenk, Swift looked at a diseased elm tree and declared: "I shall be like that tree; I shall die first at the top." His fears began to be realized when he reached age 70.
In this graceful, masterful portrait of an illness projected to affect up to 100 million people worldwide in the coming half-century, Shenk brings together stories of the afflicted--among them Ralph Waldo Emerson, painter Willem de Kooning, former President Reagan, and less heralded people grappling with this incurable condition. Shenk tracks the competing efforts of individual doctors and pharmaceutical giants, all eyeing the prize of making the key discoveries that could mitigate this cruel assault on the brain. His insights into the darker aspects of researchers withholding information from each other makes compelling reading. Readers also can't help but be taken by Shenk's humanity and compassion, which brim throughout.