Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs – Book Review

cvr9780743598774_9780743598774_lgRecently iTunes had a promotion on the audiobook version of Drop Dead Healthy so I picked it up for $7. Normally I don’t spend much time reading health books, or self-help books. All lot of them seem bogus, or only useful for people who are willing to change everything about their lives in order to live a particular new way. My impression of these kinds of books were that they contradicted each other and that they wouldn’t be helpful to anyone who wasn’t a health/wellness zealot. With that kind of thinking, I was perhaps the perfect audience for Jacobs’s book. He is not a health nut and he wasn’t writing about any particular diet, exercise plan, or way of thinking about wellness. Instead, his goal was to explore as many kinds of information and ideas about wellness out there and write about that quest for his own health perfection. He is a writer at Esquire magazine, but he also writes these kinds of investigative/experiential journalism books on the side. Previously he had written The Year of Living Biblically about how he spent a year following every rule in the Bible literally as a way of exploring faith and religion in a not-too-serious way. It’s a little like documentary film maker Morgan Spurlock (remember Supersize Me?), who also made a TV series that I enjoyed called 30 Days where participants would spend a month living in a totally different way from their current lifestyle

His sense of humour and ability not to take himself too seriously really adds a light touch to this book, especially when talking about issues that many many people feel intensely about and take very seriously. Focusing each chapter (and approximately a month from his own life for each chapter) on a different body part (e.g. The Foot) or aspect of wellness (e.g. Digestion), he would explore the thinking and some of the medical research on that area. Often he would incorporate suggestions from various experts that he would interview into his health regimen (for example, he installed a treadmill desk at the office so he could be exercising as he worked), or participated in trendy or relevant activities and programs (the most memorable being his workout in Central Park with some men into the “Paleo” movement who essentially ran barefoot and hurled rocks).

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He has a wonderful way of presenting all kinds of data and statistics as “habits” that should logically be followed based on those stats. For example, he planned to start humming because studies showed that it would prevent sinus infection; and that if he wants to live longer, he should win an Oscar and become a woman from Okinawa, since studies have shown both of those groups as living longer than the rest of us. Its these little absurdities that really make this book fun to listen to (or read). Jacobs peppers the book with relevant personal anecdotes about his wife and sons (it’s funny how he refers to his wife forbidding him from discussing much of their sex life in the book). He also talks about his Aunt Marty, who was a health zealot, and his grandfather, who was a strong and vibrant man, active and generous in the community but physically fading as his body and mind got older.

As I have suggested, this is the health book for people uninterested in health books. You’ll get some useful information, but I don’t think the goal was to pass on information, but perhaps the desire to find out more information (and a good model for how to process that kind of information). I want to say that listening to this book has changed my life, but I don’t want anyone to take that the wrong way. The changes in my life are barely noticeable. Like Jacobs found, it’s not such a simple matter to turn someone into a completely health person overnight, but that doesn’t equate to any kind of failure. Hearing about it all has made me more interested in learning more. Jacobs ends his book with an appendix, listing out 10 things that he’s learned about health. I don’t have 10 things that I learned from listening to this book about health, but I have definitely changed some of my habits. Remembering the discussion about germs, I now hesitate before eating anything with my hands (at least if I haven’t used some Purel first). I am more motivated by gradual progress in my own health improvements and I don’t give up on making small changes that would improve my health (such as walking up the stairs from the parking garage). If you have wanted to think a bit more about health and do something about improving things, you should definitely check out this book. Enjoy it as you might enjoy an appetizer sampler served by a charming waiter. Don’t worry, it won’t spoil your appetite! (4.5 out of 5)

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