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.
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
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).
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
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
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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.
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
“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
Yet he did come away with some solid results and sound
Take the treadmill desk, for example.
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
at-your-spouse bad… Sitting puts you at risk for heart disease, diabetes,
obesity, and some types of cancer, including colon and ovarian.”
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.
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
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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