Get up out of your chair

Bestselling author A.J. Jacobs discusses his pursuit of bodily perfection


If you want to make 2013 your healthiest year ever, A.J. Jacobs has some advice for you: Stop sitting.

The best-selling author spent two years trying to become the healthiest person alive, a journey he writes about in his book, Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection.

Jacobs found that while things like meditation, petting dogs and taking naps are healthy, sitting is definitely not. He even built a treadmill desk in the home office of the New York apartment he shares with his wife, Julie, and three sons, so that he could walk (albeit slowly) while working on the book.

During an interview with The Uniter this past May, Jacobs said that research that details the effects of sitting is alarming.

“One doctor told me that sitting is the new smoking, which is a bit of an overstatement, but not that much of one - it’s really terrible for your heart, and that scares the bejesus out of me,” Jacobs said by phone while strolling on his treadmill desk.

“And by the way, I am a very lazy person. If I can do this, than anyone can. Strolling really slowly is more relaxing than standing, and for me, it’s better than sitting, because when I sit, I just fall asleep.”

Jacobs’ previous books include The New York Times bestsellers The Know-It-All, in which he chronicles his experience reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, and The Year of Living Biblically, in which he tried to follow every rule in the Bible for one year.

Jacobs has also published a number of articles based on his experiments for Esquire magazine, where he is an editor at large. In one infamous and hilarious piece, Jacobs tried Radical Honesty - committing not only to telling the truth, but to telling people exactly what was on his mind.

While researching Drop Dead Healthy, Jacobs consulted a variety of experts, tried a number of different exercise regimens and experimented with numerous nutrition plans.

Like his previous books, Drop Dead Healthy is about more than just Jacobs’ experiment. It also explores his relationships with his family members, particularly his 96-year-old grandfather and his eccentric aunt, Marti.

“I basically try to write books that I would find interesting to read,” he said. “And so for me a good balance when I’m (writing) is you want … one-part facts, one-part adventure … and then one-part is my relationship with (my) family and friends, and how it affects my life.”

He added that he gravitates naturally toward writing in a humorous voice.

“I just write the way I see the world, and to me there’s a lot of serious stuff in the world, but also a lot of bizarre and humorous and ridiculous and uplifting stuff. That’s what I focus my writing on, because that’s what I enjoy.”

Jacobs’ work has inspired readers to try their own experiments, whether it’s not gossiping for a week or reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica.

Other readers have been impacted more thoroughly by his books. During one book tour, a woman approached him saying that after reading The Year of Living Biblically, she converted from Catholicism to Judaism. Shortly thereafter, a man told Jacobs that after reading the book, he converted to Evangelical Christianity.

“I thought it was nice that I got both sides - I got one for the Jews and one for the Christians,” Jacobs said with a laugh. “But that was certainly not my intention when writing the book.”

According to Jacobs, trying different life experiments is a great way to live.

“It’s a great way to push boundaries or test new things and keep life interesting.”

While he doesn’t reveal the topic of his next book, he does say that his sons are pushing him to try a year of eating nothing except candy, so that they can partake in the experiment as well.

“Or ice cream,” Jacobs said, chuckling. “They would settle for ice cream. They’re very flexible.”


Published in Volume 67, Number 15 of The Uniter (January 10, 2013)

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