Why did you decide to shape up?
A.J. Jacobs: When my body began to resemble a snake that swallowed a goat. My wife would look at my stomach and say, “I don’t want to be a widow at 45.”
You’re famous for your lists, and your health to-do list started at 53 pages and expanded to 70 by the end of the project. What were the hardest rules to follow?
The hardest was trying to follow all the rules at once. If you are trying to be ultimately healthy, there’s no room in the day for anything else. You have to work out, lift weights, prepare meals, chew meals, put on sunscreen, do your brain exercises, meditate, and on and on. I discovered there’s such a thing as being too healthy.
What was hardest: reading the encyclopedia for the "Know-It-All," living every rule in the Bible for "The Year of Living Biblically," or becoming healthy for "Drop Dead Healthy"? (These are all books by Jacobs.)
Probably becoming healthy. It was certainly the most physically painful. (Though the beard for the Bible book was quite itchy).
You started out as a “mushy, easily winded, moderately sickly blob.” Are you keeping up any of the good habits still?
I’m still using a treadmill desk; I’m on it right now, in fact. (That sentence took five steps to type.) I’m still avoiding white foods, and I’ve learned to love vegetables. (One secret: Make them sweet; caramelized broccoli is better than no broccoli at all.) And I’m still doing interval training. That’s just a sampling — there are many more.
For "Drop Dead Healthy," you tried out a variety of fitness regimes. Tell us about some. Were any effective? Or just plain fun?
I tried tons, including yoga, upside-down yoga, pole dancing, the Roman Legionnaire’s workout and Crossfit. I loved the Caveman Workout, in which my fellow cavemen and I went into Central Park, took off our shirts and shoes, and tossed boulders and stalked imaginary prey. The secret is to working out is simple: Get your heart rate up, and put some stress on your muscles. Any way you can do that is good for you.
What is some of your favorite health gear?
I bought a lot of fancy pants stuff, including a motion-sensor that tracks calorie output, a weight vest, a skin-tight suit that helps muscles recover. But the most useful tools were the basics: A heart-rate monitor and a pedometer. The more you quantify, the healthier you’ll act.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned?
How a tiny change can have a huge impact. Consider flossing. It’s not just important for your teeth, it helps protect your heart from plaque and adds years to your life. I find it hard to believe myself, but I’m now a passionate flosser.
Did you have anyone helping you along the way?
Tons of people. I had a team of medical advisers, including Harvard researchers, top-of-their field physicians and trainers with biceps like cantaloupes.
How did this project change your view of health?
Health isn’t just about going to the gym and eating bok choy. It’s about making dozens of tiny choices throughout the day. You can incorporate movement into your daily life. (I took it to the extreme and started running errands. Literally running them.) Strong social ties are crucial to longevity, so don’t feel guilty about going to dinner with friends.
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Below, A.J. makes an appearance on "Good Morning America" to talk about his book: