Drop Dead Healthy

I am a huge fan of AJ Jacobs. Many was a time when I would pick up Esquire just to read his latest report. He is an experimental journalist – he submerges himself into a project to write about it. The first thing I ever read was when he outsourced his life. That essay made me laugh out loud and it’s rare that I laugh out loud. I then picked up The Know-It-All, in which he read the Encyclopedia Britticanna from A to Z, in an effort to make himself the world’s smartest man.

His next book was the Year of Living Biblically in which he lived the Bible’s tenants as literally as possible. I not only learned a lot about the Bible, I was very entertained. Again, I laughed out loud. So I was excited to learn of his latest quest – to become the world’s healthiest person. Maybe it’s because I’m so horribly fat and out of shape, but I had a difficult time enjoying this book as much as I have enjoed his past efforts.

He goes through a litany of medical tests and experts to determine how unhealthy is he and what he can do to improve his health. He determines that he has high cholesterol, possible toxic pollution from his home, ear pollution, not enough exercise and too much sitting. He talked in every chapter about a different part of the body and the things that he does to improve his health. I am not going to summarize every chapter, but I will say that I learned a lot of (sometimes disturbing) information.

I found the best parts of the book the stories he tells about his family – especially his 96 year old grandfather and his “eccentric” health-obsessed aunt. They are the stories that make him so personable and were so entertaining to me. He talked about watching a documentary in which his grandfather appeared. It was about the artist Christo and his Gates installation in Central Park. Mr. Jacob’s grandfather was a layer and spent 20-plus years fighting for the installation to happen. I think one reason I felt so moved by those stories is that it reminded me of my own grandfather, whom I lost 11 years ago and who I miss every day.

But I digress. Back to the book. I learned that you can do things to improve your eyesight. That triathlons might not be the pinnacle of healthy behaviors. That HIIT might be the best way to train. That there is a Paelo (read: Caveman) movement in this country which consists of eating raw meat, running barefoot and tossing logs for weight training. I learned about people who work out very, very slowly and push their muscles to exhaustion.

The most important thing that I learned in reading this book is that there is very little consensus in the medical world or the scientific world about what is healthy and what is not (for the most part). There is very little basis for some of the assertions that are made every day by food companies and doctors and nutritionists.

What is the take away from the book? That you have to do things in moderation. That sitting is very unhealthy for you. That you need to eat more fruits and veggies and less meat. I learned that I need to make some changes in my lifestyle if I want to be around to meet my grandkids (assuming I have some). Maybe that’s why I didn’t find this book as amusing as his others – I took it personally and it shined a spotlight on a part of my life that has been lacking. No matter the reason, it was still a good book and I learned a lot.


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