A.J. Jacobs loves to take on a challenge. The journalist and Esquire editor-at-large first decided to spend a year literally like he was back in biblical times in The Year of Living Biblically, during which he wore only natural fibers, grew a ZZ Top-like beard, and observed arcane rules like not eating bats (that's apparently in the bible).
As a follow-up, Jacobs decided to learn everything he could in The Know-It-All. In his latest book, Drop Dead Healthy (Simon & Schuster $26.00), he decided to go on a quest to become the healthiest person alive, by exploring every possible avenue, from dieting to wearing a helmet around New York City (because you never know when something heavy is going to drop from an office building window).
Jacobs told Short Order, his new memoir came about when he was hospitalized with pneumonia. "I never really took care of myself. I was that skinny/fat guy - you know, who looked like a snake that swallowed a goat. My wife told me she didn't want to be a widow in her 40s."
That's when it hit him that he should explore the world of being
healthy. Enlisting a team of medical advisers, doctors, nutritionists,
and interviewing diet gurus and health nuts, Jacobs' goal was to improve
every part of his being -- his weight, health, sex life, posture, and
longevity. In his search, he tried almost every diet, from mainstream
From the Mediterranean diet ("this has the most scientific
evidence behind it"), to the Paleo diet ("these Paleo people are hard
core. They want to eat like cavemen so they'll they eat nuts, berries,
and meat but no grains. Because cavemen didn't have grains. There's a
contingent of cavemen that will only eat raw food and sushi. I didn't
know cavemen had sushi"), A.J. explored countless nutrition trends and fads.
Surprisingly, he found out the diet
that requires the most work and prep time is the vegan raw food diet.
"Not cooking is the most labor intensive diet I've ever seen. You have
to juice, then you have to clean the juicer. Then the dehydrator takes
eight hours to yield one dried strawberry. You burn a lot of calories
just waiting for your dinner."
In addition to diet, Jacobs tried a
host of exercise regimens, from running around Central Park barefoot
and shirtless (again, with cavemen) to yoga and weight training. What works
Jacobs found that a strenuous workout for short intervals is
better than jogging at a leisurely pace for 45 minutes. Not that jogging
isn't good for you. In fact, walking is fantastic. What's the real
killer? Sitting down for extended periods of time. After learning that factoid, Jacobs
installed a treadmill in his office and wrote his memoir while walking.
While most authors can tell you the number of chapters in their book,
Abrams shares the mileage, "It took me about 1200 miles to write", he
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Abrams shared some other tips for being the healthiest person ever, including:
- Noise is a huge health hazard. People who live in loud places have
203 times more heart attacks, because noise stresses us out, and stress leads to heart disease.
- Drink cold water. When you drink icy water, your body
works more to heat up the water, burning an extra 70 calories a day.
- There's increasing evidence that heart disease is linked to gum disease, so
floss. Jacobs said one doctor ("who might an alarmist"), claims flossing adds six years to your life.
- Coffee, in moderation, is good for you, with limits. Jacobs said, "you don't
want to go too much, you don't want to go more than one or two cups a day."
- Same for booze. Alcohol, in moderation, is also very healthy. But don't think the more you drink, the longer you live. You're only allowed to
drink one serving a day. After that the benefits go down.
- Joy is
important to our health. There's a time
for being extravagant, both in eating, drinking, and enjoying yourself -- in moderation.
That's all part of being a
member of society, so most of all, don't follow any diet or exercise to
the point of obsession.