A treat to read

‘Drop Dead Healthy’ is a hilarious account of A.J. Jacobs’s quest to become the healthiest person alive.

By
August 11, 2012 03:09
4 minute read.
Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs

Drop Dead Healthy 370. (photo credit: Michael Cogliantry)

I had just gotten around to reading The Year of Living Biblically, A.J. Jacobs’s 2008 best seller, before his latest opus arrived. And I couldn’t wait to dive into it.

Jacobs is simply fun to read. At his day job, he writes for Esquire magazine. In his spare time, he subjects himself to grandiose experiments in living and learning that he then chronicles in a voice at once self-effacing and wise.

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In pursuit of best bodily practices for Drop Dead Healthy, this “mushy, easily winded, moderately sickly blob” spent two years researching and experiencing the vast – and vastly confusing – sea of health-related information to try to sort sound advice from quackery. It turns out that’s nearly impossible. Conflicting information abounds regarding the best practices for every single part of the anatomy.

Jacobs sought scientific evidence before adopting any practice for the long haul, but he was willing to give almost anything a try – with the financial help of his book advance.

Among his many purchases were noise-canceling headphones, a PUR water pitcher, Vibram FiveFingers shoes (to get the effect of barefoot running without actually slapping skin to sidewalk), a didgeridoo as a snoring remedy and Nature’s Platform for his toilet seat (more on that later).

He rigged up a treadmill desk, logging 1,841 kilometers over the course of 23 months of writing. He carried around a miniature fork to facilitate smaller bites, a bottle of hand sanitizer to battle germs and a bottle of almond oil to sniff in order to stave off depression. He incorporated 20 minutes of brain exercises into his day, slathered himself silly with sunscreen and hummed to prevent sinus infection.

He tried pole-dancing, the Caveman Workout, anti-gravity yoga, Finger Fitness, High Intensity Interval Training and Strollercize. He tried the raw-food diet, the juice fast and the Paleo diet. He took his kids to synagogue on Purim because of “at least some correlation between religion and health.” He tried introducing the scents of cucumber and Good & Plenty candy bars to rev up his sex life (his wife, the mostly patient Julie, turned up her nose at that one).

In the end, even with dozens of items remaining undone on his healthy to-do list, he lost 7.3 kilograms and two belt sizes, halved his body-fat percentage and got his cholesterol down to a perfect number. And he was able to complete a triathlon.

“I can now run a mile in less than seven minutes as opposed to not at all. I have a visible chest,” he writes.

But no matter how many medical studies he pored over, no matter how many segments of The Dr. Oz Show he watched, Jacobs understood that people are unimaginably complex machines that sometimes, despite diligent efforts, fail to perform as expected.

“The human body – as miraculous as it can be – is in many ways a malfunctioning machine, a biological version of a 1978 Ford Pinto,” he writes.

Yet he did come away with some solid results and sound advice.

Take the treadmill desk, for example.

“Before Project Health, I sat happily for ten to twelve hours a day. My Aeron chair and my butt were soul mates… But the more I read, the more I realize an unfortunate truth: Sitting and staring at screens all day is bad for you. Really bad, like smoke-unfiltered-menthols-while-eating- cheese-coated-lard-and-screaming- at-your-spouse bad… Sitting puts you at risk for heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and some types of cancer, including colon and ovarian.”

Speaking of sitting, the Nature’s Platform squat-training device may sound extreme, but science backs it up. “Sitting puts more strain on the bowels than s q u a t t i n g , leading to an increase in hemorrhoids.

Several studies address the issue. One Israeli scientist compared subjects who squatted over a plastic container and those who d e f e c a t e d on a high toilet. The s q u a t t e r s averaged 5 1 seconds per movement. The sitters, 130 seconds. And the squatters also rated the experience easier.”

And did you know that pet owners are 30 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack than people without pets? “There are a lot of possible reasons: Touching lowers stress by raising levels of oxytocin. You’re more active if you have a pet, especially if you have to schlep outside every morning to walk the dog. You meet other pet owners, and form social ties, which are crucial to well-being. Plus there are the benefits of an emotional bond with the animal itself,” Jacobs informs the reader.

A few more nuggets: Volunteering slows mental and physical aging, and dark red Sardinian wine is especially high in anti-oxidants. Though the jury’s still out on whether raw plants are more healthful than cooked plants, “raw foodism is certainly better than the Standard American Diet. (Then again, eating nothing but asbestos sandwiches is probably better than the Standard American Diet.)”

After sifting through an exhausting quantity of information, consulting myriad experts and test-driving an astounding number of ideas, Jacobs offers several appendices of health tips. However, he writes, “Most health advice can be summed up in five words: Eat less, move more, relax. The question is: How do you do that? That is my struggle.”

Every living person shares that struggle with Jacobs , but reading Drop Dead Healthy lets us laugh about it.

And as we learn from his visit to a laughter club, 15 minutes of laughing burns 40 calories, boosts the immune system and reduces pain.


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