Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked


July 10, 2013

Getting in Shape, By Any Means Necessary

Self-experimenting author AJ Jacobs turns his focus to his health and fitness regimen.

Max Lakin

AJ Jacobs submits himself to tasks of varying degrees of pain so you don't have to. Or at least so you'll know what it's like to sport-read an encyclopedia, treat the Bible as a personal user manual, and adopt a policy of abhorrent, offensive, Fletcher Reede honesty.

AJ Jacobs. Photo by Michael Cogliantry.
"People have suggested I do all the positions in the Kama Sutra. My wife nixed that one fast."

AJ Jacobs. Photo by Michael Cogliantry.

Or, if you're keeping on trend with peak-wellness, trying new health tips. All of them. The result is Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection the third entry in Jacobs' Mind-Spirit-Body trinity of immersive exercises in self-betterment, and an absurdly exhaustive, acutely overcommitted health regimen, which found the Esquire editor lobbing boulders in Central Park and jerry-rigging a treadmill desk to write about it ("Drop Dead Healthy" = 1,200 miles), among other unlikely pursuits for a man whose body heretofore resembled, as he describes it, "a snake that swallowed a goat."

The following are excerpts from an email conversation with Jacobs, who is no doubt trying to teach himself conversational Cantonese by Labor Day, or something.

Gelf Magazine: What do you say to critics of your projects who dismiss them as stunt journalism?

AJ Jacobs: I don't think the word "stunt" should have a negative connotation. One of my heroes is 19th century pioneering journalist Nellie Bly, who did such things as travel the world in 72 days (beating the Jules Verne book by eight days). I love that stunt. At their best, stunts can be thought-provoking and enlightening.

Gelf Magazine: Which has been your most immersive experience?

AJ Jacobs: The year I spent living by all the rules of the Bible. It changed everything—what I ate, what I wore, what I said, what I thought, what I shaved, how I touched my wife. It was fascinating. And in the end, it really did improve my life.

Gelf Magazine: How much have you fashioned your books on classic immersion journalism—Plimpton joining the PGA, for example, or Ted Conover riding freight trains with hobos?

AJ Jacobs: I'm a huge fan of both of those writers. I read a lot of Plimpton in college, so I'm sure he seeped into my consciousness and shaped my career choices.

Gelf Magazine: Have you drawn a line for yourself in terms of extremity? Joining training camp with the Brooklyn Nets? Shellacking on some kohl and doing a Black Like Me redux (Gelf does not endorse this idea, which is awful, and will probably appear in Vice next month)?

AJ Jacobs: After I wrote The Year of Living Biblically, a lot of people suggested I do The Year of Living Quranically. I passed on that one. I liked exploring my own religious tradition—but diving into another tradition? That sounded too flippant. Also, people have suggested I do all the positions in the Kama Sutra. My wife nixed that one fast.

Gelf Magazine: What were some of the more outrageous things you did for Drop Dead Healthy?

AJ Jacobs: Doing the Caveman Workout (tossing boulders), and using a device called Nature's Platform, which helps you squat over the toilet instead of sit (much healthier for the bowels! And efficient for the busy professional).

Gelf Magazine: How did the official post-prognosis compare with how you actually felt, and how much of a recidivist were you in reverting to unhealthy habits?

AJ Jacobs: I actually do feel better. I've kept up with the treadmill desk, so that's the biggest lifestyle change.

Gelf Magazine: Would you call yourself a professional amateur at this point, or more of a social servant—doing these things, "For Science!"?

AJ Jacobs: I love the idea of being a social servant. Please alert the Congressional Medal of Honor committee!

Gelf Magazine: So what's the verdict? Is being optimally healthy a realistic goal for the average person?

AJ Jacobs: It's unhealthy to be overly obsessed with health. Having a happy life is key to health too. So enjoy the occasional pastry.

Max Lakin

Max Lakin is a writer and journalist based in New York.

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Article by Max Lakin

Max Lakin is a writer and journalist based in New York.

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