Having achieved enlightenment in The Year of Living Biblically and sharpened his mind in The Know-It-All, bestselling author A.J. Jacobs had one feat left in the self-improvement trinity: to make over his body and become the healthiest person in the world. In Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection, the intrepid Esquire editor-at-large explores every aspect of the body—from biceps to the brain, from testosterone to toenails—to get into shape. A self-described “mushy, easily-winded, moderately sickly blob” Jacobs, at the urging of his family, vowed to retool every part of his long-neglected body. The task was massive.
He assembled a team of expert medical advisers, a group that included A-list doctors, researchers, nutritionists and trainers. He pledged to disentangle medical myths from reality. He listened to his sage, 96 year-old grandfather’s advice, as well as the chiding of his hippy aunt, Marti. He made a 53-page list of things to do to improve his health. It includes everything from the traditional—“eat leafy green vegetables” and “lift weights”—to the unusual—“win an Academy Award” (Oscar winners live three years long than non-Oscar winners) and hum to prevent sinus infections. Then, over the course of two years, he subjected himself to a grueling but entertaining regimen of exercise, diets and experiments that yielded surprising insights—and tested the patience of his wife, Julie.
Jacobs broke down his quest body part by body part, from lungs to stomach to brain to lower back and beyond. Among his adventures:
Part memoir, part adventure, part how-to manual, the book is as uproariously funny as it is informative and inspiring. All the while, it tests our culture’s assumptions and obsessions with what makes good health and allowing the reader to reflect on his or her own health, body, and eventual mortality.
- Heart. In a quest to find the perfect cardio regime, Jacobs tried everything from the “caveman workout” (which involved tossing boulders in Central Park) to pole dancing. He ended up creating his own style of fitness called Guerilla Exercise, which involves squeezing physical activity into every nook of the day. Jacobs started to run errands. He also wrote this book while walking on a treadmill, clocking in over 1,100 miles!
- Stomach. To rein in his belly, Jacobs learned portion control from the masters. He explored the benefits of “chewdaism”—chomping on your food up to 100 times per mouthful. He tried raw food and the Paleo diet. He figured out a way to eliminate sugar from his meals and still have edible food.
- Private parts. In a surprisingly exhausting mission, Jacobs found out how to burn more calories during sex, and the best way to increase the libido (cucumbers and Good & Plenty make an appearance).
- Ears. Jacobs explored the little-known health hazards of noise pollution—one expert estimates noise-related stress leads to 45,000 deaths a year—and how best to protect yourself.
- Skull. If you want to live a long life, you’ve got to keep safety in mind. Jacobs wore a pedestrian helmet around the city for a week after he learns that more people die from drunk walking than drunk driving on a per mile basis and that pedestrian accidents in general kill more than 25,000 people a year.
- Immune System. To fight germs, Jacobs learned proper hand washing (you should not neglect cleaning under your nails, where bacteria love to lurk), started drying his clothes in the sun (UV radiation kills germs) and soaked all his produce in a solution of water, hydrogen peroxide, and vinegar before eating it.
For despite his success—a transformation Jacobs proves with data, photographs, and inspiring narrative—good health emerges in these pages as a means to a simple end: a life well-lived. In the end, Jacobs sets aside his full-time, nonstop obsession with healthy living and once again shares a cupcake with his young sons.
© 2010 A.J. Jacobs. All Rights Reserved.
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