AS PEOPLE LIVE ever faster, more complicated and unhealthy lives, paradoxically their obsession with serenity, nutrition and fitness seems to grow in direct proportion. Dr Andrew Weil, whose bald head and shaggy beard are recognisable to millions of Americans, understands this all too well. In Eating Well For Optimum Health (Little, Brown $125) the Harvard graduate, one of the 25 most influential people in the US according to Time magazine, sets out the basics of nutrition and the principles for eating well, backing his argument with (accessible) scientific fact and authoritative, analytical opinion. An arch debunker of fad diets, Weil insists healthy food should not mean bland food, and offers a wealth of delicious-sounding, nutritious recipes to prove it. For those living the fast food and TV dinner lifestyle, this book is highly recommended. If you can get past the unashamedly commercial title, Banish Your Belly, Butt & Thighs Forever! (Rodale $190) is a wealth of worthwhile advice from registered dietitians and exercise physiologists contained in the 342 pages of this paperback volume. Even in the 21st century, though, and even in the US where this book was produced (and where almost a quarter of adults are clinically obese) social conditioning discourages many women from regular exercise, leaving them especially vulnerable to weight and related health problems. Banish sensibly tackles the main issues, explodes some of the myths that cause fatalism among some women over body shape, and crucially stresses that readers seeking meaningful change are not being sold a diet, but are opting for a lifestyle requiring commitment. It is packed with nutritional information, suggested diet regimes, great recipes, work-out programmes and even a section on how to dress to look slimmer. The fashion in Britain for fung shui, tai chi, traditional medicine and all things Chinese has spawned this lovingly presented paperback edition of Knocking At The Gate Of Life (Newleaf $165). It takes readers through a clearly illustrated regime of time-honoured exercises from the mainland, explained step by step in careful detail. These range from wu chin hsi, the 'five animal play' (which apparently can give you 'the strength of a bear, the agility of a deer') to tuo fa for hair loss, and yan bu yun dong eye exercises. Almost any other ailment you can think of is addressed by its own remedial exercise, although the restorative claims skimp on detailed analysis or scientific explanation too often to be unreservedly convincing. What is beyond dispute however is that these exercises can be generally beneficial in enhancing circulation and stimulating the nervous system to the benefit of overall well-being. They require no expensive equipment and are accessible to people of practically all ages and levels of fitness and mobility. Too many exercise regimes alienate too many people and inhibit them from taking the all-important first step - literally - towards better health. This is not one of them.