Drop Dead Healthy
Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection
By A. J. Jacobs
Simon & Schuster
A. J. Jacobs, editor-at-large of Esquire magazine and the author of The Year of Living Biblically and Know-It-All, now gives us a take on the American obsession with health and fitness that is funny, wild, wide-ranging, and totally irreverent, yet filled with real information garnered from research studies and interviews with leading experts.
Jacobs turns his wit and will not just to getting fit and healthy but to becoming the perfect specimen of health. Instead of a clear path to fitness and health, he discovered a vast array of contradictory advice. Beginning with food, he asked whether he should he go vegan or Paleo, eat according to his blood type or chomp down on raw veggies. Making a list of more than a hundred diets, he decided to start slowly — by eating more chocolate and drinking more booze and coffee, with science on his side. On the other side of the discussion, he found those who agree with the words of the late fitness guru Jack LaLanne: “If it tastes good, spit it out!” And how much should we eat? Jacobs interviewed strict calorie-restriction advocates, chewing-to-liquid devotees, and mindful eaters to learn the answer — or answers. Even though most agree that we eat too much, it’s still up for debate what we should eat and in what quantity.
Jacobs obsesses on topics like exercise and microbes (the gym is fraught with dangers, and he frets: “Do I want to pick up a dumbbell that has been pawed by a thousand sweaty palms before me?”). But his forays into the world of muscle have brought some benefit: he can now climb a flight of stairs without his heart “thumping like a cartoon animal in love.” He’s become aware of the dangers of noise pollution, which studies have shown to be the hidden cause of about 45,000 fatal heart attacks per year, not to mention noise-induced hearing loss in many millions more. The decibel meter he put near his wife’s mouth didn’t win him any hugs, but the noise-reducing headphones that made him look like “a baggage handler on the tarmac at JFK” did provide a measure of respite, and he began wearing them everywhere, even to brush his teeth. His somewhat less than latent obsessive-compulsive disorder goes into hilarious overdrive as, each step of the way, he learns how little we really know for sure about getting and staying healthy, and how just trying can easily become a full-time job. Could DNA testing be the answer? At least then he’d know what he really needed to worry about.
At the end of his experiment, which he began because he wanted to be around to see his young sons grow up, he had worked on most of his anatomy except the spleen, liver, and esophagus. The result? “I’m certainly healthier than I was two years ago,” he reports. He had lost 16 pounds and dropped two belt sizes. His doctor told him that his lipid panels were “so good, they’ll give you a heart attack.” He had increased his lung capacity, and exercise had given him “a visible chest.” He hopes that he has boosted his longevity. But in the final analysis, he said, “in the name of mental health, I have to put an end to full-time, nonstop healthy living. I promised my sons. They’ve been waiting patiently for two years to share cupcakes with me during birthday parties.”