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Steph McGovern, Easy Ways to Live Well. Photo/Supplied

Easy Ways to Live Well: Health advice without the tellings-off

A new BBC series with Steph McGovern and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall dispenses some useful advice while busting a few myths along the way. 

The words “living well” in a sentence about Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall may conjure visions of the bucolic culinary hero striding across the paddocks collecting herbs and bidding the free-range pigs good morning. That is not what Easy Ways to Live Well (TVNZ 1, Thursday, 7.30pm) is.

In some ways, the series, presented by Fearnley-Whittingstall and former BBC Breakfast presenter Steph McGovern, ploughs the familiar format we saw most recently in War on Plastic. The pair visit ordinary folk who could be doing better for their health, propose a remedy and pop back later to see if they’ve sorted it out.

In this case, it’s part of the deal that some of the subjects won’t have any luck. The “easy ways” are essentially (more or less) scientifically valid ideas that the programme puts on trial. So, the staff at a medical clinic where most of the biscuits in Britain seem to have been hoarded are encouraged to use peppermint to deter their snacking impulses and gym-goers try out ab-toning belts.

Fearnley-Whittingstall himself tries out a daily cold-shower cure for his stress problems. The second episode even features a trial intended to demonstrate the placebo effect in controlling chronic pain.

As an attempt to bring some science to the party without turning off viewers, it’s mostly successful and lifts the series out of the formulaic dispensing of instructions by itinerant experts. No one gets a telling-off and a few hot trends (expensive protein supplements) are debunked. The successes and failures will come as no surprise to anyone who has read the evidence – but most people don’t read the evidence.

Humanising it all is the relationship between the two presenters. As one British reviewer observed, they are “unexpectedly a match made in heaven. His allotment-chic clashed with her BBC Breakfast sheen and love of junk food, but they bonded over a shared sense of the ridiculous.”

If the presenters’ bond seems a little forced in the first episode, it’s cemented in the second, when 37-year-old McGovern reveals to her new pal that she is pregnant.

“There’s three of us on the show now,” she chirps, a little anxiously.

Fortunately, by then she had addressed her lamentable gut health with a better diet and lashings of kombucha. But there are still the pelvic floor muscles needing attention …

This article was first published in the March 21, 2020 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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