Let me guess, you probably thought there was never going to be another book recollection. Figured since it’s been like September since you’ve seen one of these come through that I’d tossed away the reading light and spend my free time watching cartoons on the boob tube. Truth is, I’ve actually been reading a book just taking a really really really long time to get through it. A big thanks to the Peoria Plague for allowing me to get the task done – a silver lining in every cloud. One of my favorite authors A.J. Jacobs brings us today’s recollection. If you don’t recall his other reads, check out his link here, here her…
Huge thanks to my brother Ron who made me aware this new book was on its way. The latest offering could not have been more tailor made for me if I’d been able to pick his next topic myself! His latest self-experiment is to become the embodiment of health and fitness. A book devoted to experimenting with various theories and products to transform himself into an in the back of old comic books (the guy kicking the sand, not the puny dude whining because he got sand in his shorts). Anybody who reads this blog knows I also enjoy trying different things to tune my body for whatever activity my Life List has set in front of me. Last year being a huge hurdle in that journey getting through two half marathons and the previous year of dropping some major poundage to enable it. Add in all the experiments on what to eat, lift or stretch and you can compile quite a few years of successes and … sigh failures. Now here was a book that chronicled a similar journey written by the king of guinea pig journalists. I could hardly wait to start reading it knowing the minute I cracked it open I’d never put it down until every page was consumed with vigor and laughter…. well, that is what I thought. The truth was I did put it down… a lot. Granted a lot of that was due to some busy times but it was a HIGHLY anticipated read. Thinking back it is hard to determine exactly what the issue is. At first I thought it was due to not getting much out of it while compiling the takeaways, but after doing that realized it was a pretty healthy list so doubt that is the problem. Maybe it was a majority of experiments didn’t interest me. That can’t be it because that is the part I enjoy – experiencing something I would never do myself from a safe distance away. Was it not believable? Don’t think so – talk about similarities, he was on the same weight loss journey that I was on at about the exact same age (41 vs 43 when I did it) and his numbers were slightly off of mine (I beat him actually! hehehe).
If I have to provide a hypothesis I’d have to say depth and sadness. On the depth front he tended to rush through some of the experiments. The book was set up in chapters devoted to a specific topic like the brain, the feet, the ears and yes, even the gonads. On average, those chapters only really lasted on average about 10-15 pages and then on to the next topic. This provided a much too convenient stopping point where longer chapters tend to extend my reading window. As mentioned, I found myself putting this book down all the time. It is hard to really get the experience out of such a short time – divide that up into an understanding of the experiment (intent of the product or test he was going to try), some details on the highlights and the results and you do not have much time to put yourself in his shoes make you a passive observer at best. I was hoping to spend time mentally comparing and contrasting with all my experiences. Now, this may be a completely different experience for a casual reader so take that within context. I am eager to have someone else read this book and let me know their opinion. Okay, now for the more difficult part. There is an undertone of this book that I couldn’t shake. This is not something I really want to go into detail here because I get very uncomfortable. In short, here is a guy on a journey to become the embodiment of health but the people around him seemed to be going through a quite different experience. While writing this book (and soon after) A.J. lost hist Grandfather and Aunt. Add to this recollections of some lost acquaintances and an expert he had planned to interview make it all more difficult to get through. I’m leaving it there but I think it did have an impact on my overall feeling of the book.. and maybe the title now that I look at it.
In summary, I did not get the amount of enjoyment I had anticipated out of it. This could be setting the bar to high (think Expendables 2) or too much going on at the same time. Maybe a a second account will help set me straight but for now that is where I am. I still had some laughs and man, do I feel for what his wife has to go through during these experiments. I’m still eager to see what he comes out with next!
Hit the Jump for the takeaways (oh.. for the record, just crossed over 100,000 words for this year’s blog posts!)
- I now know he is 41 (at time of writing putting him very close to my age bracket which makes his healthy journal coincide nicely with mine although I have 4 years of wear and tear over him
- The Executive Health Enterprise’s founding chairman back in 1913 was William Taft … who AJ comments once required 4 people to lift him out of a White House bathtub he got stuck in
- Starting stats – 5’11” weight 172 – that puts him 2 inches taller than me and 8 pounds lighter than my peak weight (granted that was when I was bulked up for martial arts
- Dark chocolate is considered good for you….one of the few vices that work in my favor but get it 2 years and I’m sure the research will be saying the opposite – as he points out later the healthy stuff is really 100% cocoa – now I like my chocolate bitter, but that can be a bit harsh
- He had the nerve to reference 2 Girls and a Cup video … I have low standards but that one is even waaaaay below me on the viewer list
- As is often pointed out to me by non-runners, the individual who wrote the book on modern fitness (Jim Fixx) and author of The Complete Book of Running died at a early age (52) – died of heart attack after a run. My take – you never know when you are going to go so why worry about it – I kiss my wife before I start a race and look forward to seeing her smile at the end – short and simple – between that I rely on my training to get through.
- The Institute of Medicine recommends Jogging for 30 minutes at 5.5 mph (well, I have that covered big time)
- Gymnasium comes from the Greeks as “place to be naked”. With all the horror stories told of their health club locker room guy code violations I’m glad I turned my monthly fees into a home gym investment.
- Like me AJ is also a hater of the treadmill! (a necessary evil for a distance runner like me). Interesting enough the “mill” part of that comes from the 1800s where they were used by horses to crush grain… and apparently as a way to reform prisoners.
- A good marriage is associated with a lower rate of heart attacks, pneumonia, cancer and dementia… I wonder if this changes if you have kids? – note one reason is married men are more likely to visit the doctor thanks to their wives’ pestering
- ~26 million adults have noise induced hearing loss… hmm, Linda refers to this as “selective hearing” … a hotly debated topic!. Think about this the next time you are in Dave and Busters – has 102 decibels (per AJ’s measurement) and the permanent loss threshold is >85
- Apparently grown men running in street clothes freaks people out – guessing this is association since this usually means some incident occurred they were not prepared for. This came up because AJ decided to run to do his errands
- For the record, AJ points out running a mile erase 124 calories for a man where walking consumes only 88 – so the rest of you can walk all you want – I’m going to run and then enjoy all the extra time.
- AJ converted to the Treadmill Desk (homemade) and by the end of the book had decided to stick with it. Not sure if I am that far down the health path yet, but not sure it really fits in a corporate environment as opposed to work at large mode of income.
- AJ is an admitted consumer of Germ Porn – From his other books it is well known he is a bit of a germaphobe so this isn’t surprising. I like to give the appendix credit for doing its best to keep me safe from germs – what the hell, nobody can tell me what its for anyway so my theory of germ control and water purification sounds as good as anything anyone else has brought to the table.
- He goes to see Dr. Germ who shocks him by wanting to shake his hand… AJ offered the elbow bump instead
- Infectious disease is the second leading cause of death in the world after cardiovascular disease. Surprised Bob Costas isn’t on TV telling everyone how they should all wear masks because that is this responsible thing to do (sorry, still pissed this idiot decided to become all self righteous after the KC incident). Note, there’s only about 2,000 of the 156,000 categories of germs that are truly nasty
- Interesting, Dr. Germ indicates that germs do not develop a resistance to alcohol or antibiotic soaps but they can develop resistance to antibiotics – so contrary to my opinion anti-bacterial soaps are apparently not bad for you.. but do watch the antibiotic popping for mere colds
- Hygiene Hypothesis is the name given to the theory modern day children are not exposed to enough germs to be able to handle them as adults (a theory I hold myself but I’ve only slept at a Holiday Inn). Nice to know there is a formal name I can reference now
- To my shock he started taking Creatine. I discussed this with my doctor when I was heavily involved in Martial Arts and getting my ass handed to me by students who were on it – his advice – don’t take it, not enough is known about it and we’ve learned our lesson with Steroids… so the beatings continued but nice to know I didn’t intentionally damage my kidneys.
- Orthorexia – an unhealthy obsession with healthy foods. Definitely no where close to this.. but slowly shifting to the healthier side
- Brought up the confusion of causation vs correlation – AMEN! I continually argue about this at work and with the multitude of stupid conclusions drawn from small lot experiments
- Claims that the low-fat diet is a sham per Gary Taubes
- AJ believes in man made global warming based on a theory that 97 climate scientists believe it. I prefer to understand the facts of the issue and understand the economic money flow – never trust the intent of man when he holds stocks dependent on the message. – Need an example – AJ points out the story behind the popularity of blueberries was a result of the Maine wild blueberry growers trying to save their market – I’ll leave the details for your homework
- Weighing yourself and tracking your daily food helps shed pounds – 100% agree and can attest to the success since that was a staple for my own weight loss efforts
- Graham crackers was a snack invented to quell the passions in hormonal adolescent boys – think about that the next time you are eating a s’more
- Ernest Borgnine once responded at 94 for his secret to longevity – “I masturbate a lot”
- Indicates that Sex is coming down on the healthy side of discussions these days .. except for acrobatic sex that can result in penis fractures … an injury that happens to about 1000 men/yr (just throwing out stats – Americans on average have sex 137 times/yr.. Japan 37)
- There are only a couple of true aphrodisiacs – Testosterone and Dopamine
- Like Linda and I, AJ has essentially wiped salt from his diet – I found it like caffeine – once gone you really don’t miss it and have no need for it again
- Placebo comes from Latin – “I shall please” – has proven very effective!
- Here’s something to think about – the Nike slogan Just Do It – the copywriter got the idea form the last words from murderer Gary Gilmore before he was executed
- As preached to as a kid – put that toilet lid down before flushing — I was surprised to learn in my life that this wasn’t a universal behavioral truth.
- There’s a NY law that adults can’t enter a playground unless accompanied by a kid. Seems a little big government to me but apparently they have some real problems over there.
- Recommends considering the TSA pat down as a free massage … ummm NO!
- I now have a new sign to put up in my cube thanks to AJ – “Remind yourself that you’re going to die one day soon, so stop being a petty little bastard” – beautiful (for those looking for Christmas gift this would look good in a snappy frame)
- Indicates doing crossword puzzles could help delay cognitive decline – my brothers would agree.. just makes me feel stupid
- Flossing will add 6.4 years to your life – it better or I’m going to very very pissed having to go through that every day
- He went down the Vibrams path .. please I beg you, AJ, turn back before you go to the dark side.
- Yes, finally someone writes what I’ve always thought – Casper the Friendly Ghost is the “strangest comic book in history”. His definition was more eloquent t than mine so I’ll just quote “Are we supposed to forget that a child had to die to produce this chipper poltergeist?” This is the exact same though I get every time I see the Casper image.
- He referenced a habit breaking method from Thomas Schelling that was quite intriguing – his theory included setting a consequence for not changing – as in AJ’s situation writing a check out to the American Nazi Party to be sent to them if he did a specified thing again – he wanted to make a situation that would make him sick to his stomach if he failed. This is called an Odysseus Contract. Personally I have a pretty strong bond to my mental decisions and to this point a pretty strong conviction to making them happen so I’ll pass on this level of contracts, but will keep this in mind if I ever become soft on myself
- He actually went to a pole dancing class (because it was the most popular class at his gym) – talk about dedication and complete lack of concern regarding pride.
- Dolphins sleep one half a brain at a time so they are conscious enough to return to the surface every few minutes – now this is fascinating. I’m with AJ on this – why has evolution come up with this for us – sleeping is a complete waste of time on the efficiency scale and this seems like a perfect solution – I could save my math activity for one part of the and my creative photography work for another part of the … pure genius!
- Apparently counting backward from 400 by threes is a good way to get to sleep – next on my list to try
- There were some definite darker moments in the book I wasn’t expecting – like the decline of his grandfather bringing out the thought – “Old age is a long, slow loss of control” the reverse path to an infant but unlike babies, old people know what their missing. A very sobering concept that made me take a pause and reflect on the road ahead. Like a sledgehammer to the mind to someone at the midpoint of his life. Oh well, that is something I can’t control but I can try and make the best of what time is left. His Grandfather passed away while writing this book, along with Jack LaLanne who he was trying to set up an interview with, His ex-girlfriend committed suicide from depression the year before in her Obama mama shirt (too easy, will let that one go), References a fellow worker who died of a heart attack at 51, His quirky Aunt Marti was diagnosed with Cancer, seemed to be beating it, but fell and hit her head – passed away at 63.
- Health obsession can turn you into a selfish bastard – a more accurate statement has never been written – your world starts becoming very selfish and you start viewing outside influences as an enabler or inhibitor to your health goals. In truth this is probably the dark side of getting healthier and I can easily see why many fall off this journey – you definitely need the support of those around you and their understanding when you start acting more quirky than usual
- Comedian Emo Philips once said “I used to think the brain was the most wonderful organ in the body. Then I realized who was telling me that” – this was part of a discussion on how undervalued hands are in the importance of human life
- Points out that modern day typing is damaging to the hand due to lack of rest – considered the old carriage return as the beneficial momentary rest
- AJ trained and finished an Iron Man race – congratulations to committing to a task and rocking it. Interesting enough he said the same thing when I finished my first running race ever “[WE] did it” Three small words that are more fulfilling that the works of Shakespeare when you’re dripping gallons of sweat and gasping for air. Note he wisely bailed on the next Triathlon he signed up for since it involved swimming in the Hudson River that ended up getting 200 million gallons of raw sewage poured into it from a sewage plant fire two weeks before the event… Smart move AJ (especially being a germaphobe)
- He opted out of LASIK having noticed the inventor still wears glasses
- Much like the bad influence of Casper, AJ is opposed to the Cat in the Hat since it involves a boy and girl left alone who let in a smooth talking stranger and then try to keep it all a secret from their parents – now that is a sobering perspective isn’t it?
- Ending weight was 156.5 – a loss of 16 pounds – Not bad, but I beat him by over 8 pounds on my journey (and it took 1 year, not 2 – he does have the triathlon to hold over me)