Book Review: Drop Dead Healthy

I've recently had a hankering for reading a few good health/self-help books, and decided to tackle Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs over the holidays. During the recounting of his two-year journey to become as "healthy as humanly possible," I enjoyed Jacobs' conversational style and was surprised to find it funny. It was the noise-cancelling headphones that got me. Each chapter focuses on a part of the body, and not only the obvious ones. For example, there's one on the "inside of the eyelids" i.e. sleep, and one on the ears, in which he learns about the dangers of our sky-high decibel lives. Jacobs takes to wearing large 70s-style headphones around Manhattan to protect his ears from the constant noise. His highly-tolerant and reasonable wife is on board with this, until she finally loses it on the way to a play date for their sons, asking him to take the "dorky" offending items off before they arrive.

The book is full of interesting bits of information and funny exchanges with Jacob's wife Julie, who becomes a character in the story in her own right. Jacob also includes tales and anecdotes from a few other family members -- his grandfather as well as his "eccentric Aunt Marni" -- who all round the book out and make for a more interesting two-year journey of health from every aspect.

Although some may find my voracious reading of self-help books strange, I was told once (by a psychologist, my friends) that my approach to them is in fact quite healthy. I find I take away one or two helpful hints or even just one particular thing that makes me think. I also love those written in the first person by the author, as I can't get enough of observing how others' view the world and what it is that makes them tick.

In this book it was Jacob's tackling of his sedentary life style that really hit home for me. When he described his love of sitting down, I thought, "That's me!". Being healthy isn't just about exercise and going to the gym, but the research he did showed that sitting and starting at screens is actually bad for you. The book isn't footnoted (one of its flaws), so I can't check the "studies" he quotes, but he does make a point that anecdotally appears to be true: never before in history have we been so immobile. And when I examine my life I know it's true. I sit at a desk all day, I ride escalators, I would do anything for a seat on the tube, and when I get home I often lie on the sofa since I'm so exhausted. From what, exactly? A lot of my free time is spent sitting at a screen as well, since one of my hobbies is writing. And when I tried to write a novel in a month, whoa, I did a lot of sitting. I was fascinated by the ways in which he tackled this, including his treadmill desk. He wrote the entire book while walking.

I think one of the reasons I found this so interesting is that I already knew so much sitting wasn't good for people -- in particular hypermobile people like me. One of the reasons I still need to do my physio exercises every day is because I am so sedentary. When I saw my physio this last August after my week sailing in Turkey, she said my body was in much better shape than before I left. Clambering around a boat for a week was the the best medicine for my bendy body.

I don't think that I will be able to implement a treadmill desk anytime soon, but at least this book increased my awareness that I should be trying to sit less. Perhaps not taking a seat on the tube when one becomes available, standing up when I'm on a conference call, and trying to walk instead of taking the tube or bus whenever I can.

This won't be the last A.J. Jacobs book I'll read, in fact, I'm quite interested in one of his other quests: one to become smarter and one to follow the Bible as literally as possible. That one is sure to be interesting.

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