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The Healthiest Man In The World

John Harwood in for Tom Ashbrook

Writer A.J. Jacobs achieved enlightenment in “The Year of Living Biblically.” Now, he’s trying to get buff. He joins us.

Cover image from the book "Drop Dead Healthy"

Cover image from the book "Drop Dead Healthy"

The 27,000 people running the Boston Marathon today have all sorts of reasons. But just about all of them see running as a way to get healthier. That’s the challenge that Esquire writer A.J. Jacobs took on – in far more exotic fashion – is his new book “Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection.”

He played caveman in Central Park, slathered on tubes of sunscreen, hung out at a gym for the first time, went to a laughter club, and practiced portion control by serving his dinner on the plates his toddlers use.

Up next On Point: how much can a man remake his body for the long haul?

-John Harwood


A.J. Jacobs, editor-at-large at Esquire magazine, and best-selling author. His new book is “Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Body Perfection.” You can read an excerpt here.

From The Reading List

USA Today “Jacobs has since shed his ‘Ted Kaczynski-like facial hair.’ But even after all his workouts, research and consultations with experts, Jacobs acknowledges his physique won’t get him on Jersey Shore, ‘which I’m OKwith. But I’m a lot healthier.’”

New York Post “When I turned 40 three years ago, one thing was clear. I was fat — what they call ‘skinny fat,’ with a body that resembled a python after swallowing a goat. I was 5-foot-11 and weighed 172 pounds — most of them congregating in my middle.”

Excerpt: “Drop Dead Healthy”

Use the navigation bar at the bottom of this frame to reformat the excerpt to best suit your reading experience.


“Healthy Body” by Operation Ivy
“Healthy & Wise” by GG Hill

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  • Victor Vito

    Drink wine, don’t drink alchohol.  Coffee is bad, coffee prevents type 2 diabetes, eggs are bad, eggs are fine…..

    Good luck determining what perfect health is.

    The more we learn, the more clear it becomes how much we don’t know.

    • Jcox713

      Oh my.  Please bring back Tom. This guest host has absolutely no sense of humor and is utterly disconnected.  “And what was the kool aid you drank?”  He asked this seriously. 

      • jane

        the guest was kidding, tom got it!! 

    • Wm. James from Missouri

      I drink 20 to 40 cups of coffee a day, most days, 2/3 decaf. I haven’t been to the doctor for a sickness in 35 years ! Drink it black !

      • jane

        you did say 20/40 did you mean 2/4, not a little exaggeration is there?

  • Terry Tree Tree

    MOST things in moderation? 
         DON’T ask your doctor about the 3,000 drugs that advertise for you to ask your doctor about them, without divulging the symptoms?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charley-Wooley/741206578 Charley Wooley

    kettlebells, hiit cardio, shakes with blended vegetables ie cale
    coffee, alcohol just dont go overboard

  • L armond

    Well, dance.  Dance in place. Shake Shake Shake.  Skip singing lessons, just carry on.  Stress everyone else out.  Pre battle rattle, then go too Cool for School.  Stick with it and others will join the conga line.  Hush now, Don’t Explain.

  • Taoist Crocodile

    Try a bunch of different kinds of exercise, to find one that you enjoy.  For example, I have a punching bag shaped like a little kid.


    • Terry Tree Tree

      A punching bag shaped like a little kid?  WHY?

      • Taoist Crocodile

        There’s nothing more cathartic than hauling back and walloping a little kid-shaped piece of exercise equipment.  Not that you’d ever hit a kid in real life, but just think about all the times you’ve wanted to….

  • Terry Tree Tree

    “Drop-dead Healthy”   What a concept!  HOW does THAT work?
       Medusa was ‘Drop-dead Gorgeous’?

  • Marion

     All fitness buffs go on and on about walking – but some of us are disabled and don’t have that option.  What suggestions do you have for people who need alternatives?

    • Goldbug

      Boxing, to start throw 100 puches with each hand..your heart rate will be proof this is excellent exercise!

      • Logan

        Absolutely true.  I do this when my knees are acting up to get in a decent workout while I’m waiting weeks/months for the physical therapy and healing to kick in.  Even punching the air or pillows will be sufficient to get your heart rate up pretty high.   You don’t have to punish your body by hitting a heavy bag to get a good boxing workout. 

    • Terry Tree Tree

      Swimming, whatever exercise that you CAN do, without hurting yourself.  Increase, and diversify, as you can.

      • Logan

        I know a guy in a wheelchair who still swims and rolls uphill, and even though he is paralyzed from the waist down he has rock hard abs and strong upper body.   He really does his best to keep in shape despite his full head of white-grey hair.  So it’s definitely possible.

  • Anonymous

    I hear what you are saying about refined carbs and sugar, but we didn’t have an obesity epidemic 30 years ago, did we?

    My favorite demons are high fructose corn syrup, which in everything, artificial sweeteners which are neurotoxins what they do to appetite, processed foods, and the whole supersize-me epidemic in fast-food restaurants.  

    • Tncanoeguy

      With computers and the internet are we more sedentary than 30 years ago? 

    • jane

      and we do not move as much, cars take us everywhere before the 70s we walked more, played more, less time watching tv and now we have video games and laptops attached to us

  • Rex

    I think a lot is a mental mindset. If you do something in moderation and in a semi-healthy fashion, you’ll trick your body into operating better.

  • Vijay

    This exercise to be drop-dead healthy reeks of American-type, first world, narcissism. For most of the people who live on less that two dollars a day, they do not get enough calories to keep themselves healthy. They live in extreme poverty. These experiments in health recommended by the author are reflective of first world affluence, excessive and unrealistic

  • JMC

    did the guest do any research in internal inflammation and ways to reduce it? their is some research that suggests inflammation is the root of most disease.

  • Anonymous

    Re. chewing…Somewhere on my shelves i have a small book by a survivor of a World-WarII concentration camp who was convinced he survived on the crumbs and water they were fed by chewing everything dozens and dozens of times to the point where the food just disappeared down the throat.

    Digestion begins in the mouth, and if food isn’t thoroughly mixed with the enzymes in saliva, full digestion isn’t possible.

    Watch how folks eat a “fast-food” restaurants sometime. How we eat is perhaps as important as what we eat.

  • Ben

    Chewing is really really important.  You may not know this, but any chewing not done by the teeth is actually foisted on the stomach muscles to sqeeze into a digestable texture.   Depending on the resilience of the food, this can result in increased stress on the stomach, and for anything that stomach fails to mash up, the upper and lower intestine.  I have been dealing with the results of serious under-chewing for the last couple of years.  It’s been pretty miserable at times, with the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life.  Getting back on track with good habits and digestive helpers like probiotics helps, and I can now eat burgers, fries and indian food in the same day with only normal discomfort, but for several months, I was relegating to eating a few pieces of fruit and chicken broth while my digestive system recovered in order to alleviate extremely painful indigestion and debilitating nausea.  I also suspect that I got food poisoning a few times because bacteria was able to hide out in bits of food virtually untouched by my stomach acids.

    So please remember to chew at least 20 times!!   …and count to 20 between bites!

  • Kahsby

    Man this guest is a bore
    Plug away….

    • Kahsby

      Reminds me why I stopped reading Esquire in 1983.

  • http://whilewestillhavetime.blogspot.com/ John Hamilton

    This would have been an enjoyable interview had it not been for the obsessive interrupting by the show host. He must have learned his trade from Tom Ashbrook. This isn’t the only show where I notice this. Charlie Rose is just as bad. 

    Curiously, Terry Gross has no problem moving an interview along without interrupting. I think this is because she doesn’t feel the ego need to interject herself in the conversation, knowing full well that she is in the conversation, and is comfortable letting the guest answer a question.

    This would be a good example for the show host to follow. Generally, when you ask someone a question the polite thing to do is let the person answer. If you are so insecure in your life that you can’t help interrupting, maybe you should try another line of work, like customer service for the phone company.

    • Diane

       Ditto and the very best interviewer I’ve seen is Brian Lamb.

      • Ben

        Agreed that Harwood has a tendency to interrupt, and it is pretty annoying.  Having said that I can’t stand Terry Gross.  “Fresh Air” is the only program I consistently skip on NPR.    

        I thought the caller who brought up the arrogance and narcissism of this guest was “On Point”.  So much focus on himself and his diet and his books.  I had to turn it off after a while… 

    • Slipstream

       I don’t agree with your assessments of Ashbrook and Harwood, but I certainly concur re Charlie Rose.  Terri Gross is good, but she brings her personal biases into things a little too much.  I do agree that if the interviewer is doing 40% of the talking, then there is a problem.  Another one I find guilty of this transgression is Michelle Martin, whom I can no longer bear to listen to. 

      • Jhalshawavery

        yes on michelle martin, just something about her, maybe a certain haugtiness and it really bothers me, ashbrook is not as bad as charlie rose but he interrupts too much, do not agree with u re terri gross, i have never heard her express a bias, maybe you are too biased yourself about the  subject at hand, i have listened to her for years, not once have i heard her be anything but open and unbiased. sorry

    • jane

      i stopped watching charlie rose years ago because i could not stand his interruptions, omg, get a clue, and i am starting to feel the same way with tom ashbrook, let the people answer before u jump in there, it is either ego or insecurity, usually they overlap, i looooovvveee terry gross, she is the absolute best in the business!!

    • jane

      i stopped watching charlie rose years ago because i could not stand his interruptions, omg, get a clue, and i am starting to feel the same way with tom ashbrook, let the people answer before u jump in there, it is either ego or insecurity, usually they overlap, i looooovvveee terry gross, she is the absolute best in the business!!

  • Jpmacco

    This obsession on diet is so noteworthy. The problem is not with food, it is with people needing to fill the need of  spirituality. There have been diets galore for decades and it is now a billion dollar industry with easy money for people to take advantage. And it does not work.

    Historically, there were few diets in this country, as food was scarce and people lived in true poverty. The best diet (and research has consistently supported this) is the restriction of calories. We have a difficult time accepting this as it feels uncomfortable restricting calories, but it is okay to feel uncomfortable. The feeling of being uncomfortable is based on the need to feed the soul.

    I have seen many dependent on food stamps who are grossly obese, when they can choose cheaper foods such as pretty much every veggie and protein, but these choose high calorie foods. You do not see obesity in many areas of Africa because they have limited food; there were never diet issues during the holocaust- they did not have a metabolism issue. 

    Eating food increases dopamine levels; the experience can be addictive. But like alcohol and other drugs people have been taught they cannot control themselves, which is false. This is based on the media and people selling something. I would suggest meditating, being mindful. Even just sitting in a chair for 20 minutes a day can make a difference. We are a future oriented culture- we need to be a culture oriented more focused on the present and the moment, as constant thoughts on the future brings anxiety.

    • jane

      excellent comments!

  • Pingback: A.J. Jacobs, Man of a Thousand Faces | Modular Designs' World | a blog about more than carpet

  • sy2502

    One thing I hope people get from the program is that health and fitness aren’t a magic bullet program to follow for a few weeks, but a life style in which things are done for a reason. I am into health and fitness and too many time do I see the next miraculous workout, or the next fat busting fad diet. People go through the motions without knowing why, maybe lose a few pounds, then go right back to their unhealthy habits, gain all the weight back and blame the program for it. 
    Another thing that was mentioned but I wish was hammered home better is that you can be thin AND unhealthy (he mentioned skinny fat, which is someone who’s not overweight, but with a high amount of body fat). 
    Unfortunately one of the early callers embodied to me the general attitude of the public: that trying to be healthy is a vanity thing, that you can’t be healthy and sociable at the same time, or even healthy and a pleasant individual. I guess that caller thinks making your children orphans because you had a heart attack at age 40 is a better way of relating to one’s family.

  • SamIam

    I wonder how much (more) the author spends on food, per week/month for a family of 5, where-ever he lives. Considering that their food is mostly plant based.

    Also, what do you eat for breakfast? If you don’t eat meat or milk products nor grains! :)

    Thank you

  • jane

    i speak for myself when i say that i think i have lost touch with my body’s voice, my mind and not my body tells me when and what to eat, that probably is not a good thing…the mind has too much going on, emotions are in there, i have stopped eating as much to see if my body will talk to me again, may sound goofy but to each her own!! i let myself feel hunger first and then eat, altho the mind is part of the process, i am letting it take back seat to see whether it gets me back on track

  • jane

    i really like this author, he is quirky but i like quirky, i think he knows his stuff, too, those who said he was boring are being too judgmental and maybe healthy foods and lifestyle are of no interest to you so you would find it boring.

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