Becoming the Healthiest Man Alive
A.J. Jacobs spent two years learning (and living) every aspect of fitness.
And if those basics stick, there’s no wiggle room for the fitness-averse to make excuses. Once you’re there, ready to get in shape, get back into shape, or stay in shape, Jacobs extols the values of goal-orientedness. “It’s why races are so good, they give you a goal. I had a goal of writing this book, so that was very helpful. I also learned a whole bunch of tricks on how to motivate yourself. Because that really is one of the biggest parts of health—how do you motivate yourself to live in a healthy way?” he says, recalling how he tracked his progress meticulously on both monthly and daily scales. Using a pedometer, Jacobs found himself tacking two additional miles onto his daily walking tally because he enjoyed the self-set challenge of walking 10,000 steps each day. The future self was another major motivator for Jacobs, the idea doing right by his body so as to live old and healthy. But the aged self is such an abstract, Jacobs opted for a more tangible visual by using an iPhone app, HourFace, to age his photograph, then taping it up prominently at his desk. He’s looking at the photo as we speak. “I want to respect him,” he says. “I want to get some exercise and eat right ‘cause he will be around, he will exist.”
In all the ups and downs of defining a fitness routine, Jacobs managed to find activities he truly finds pleasurable. “That’s the whole key—you’ve gotta do something that you enjoy otherwise you’re never gonna do it,” he says. “The things I enjoy are playing basketball with my kids—luckily I’m a lot taller than them, makes it easier—and I also do love racquet sports, squash and tennis, and the treadmill desk.” He also uses a dumbbell set at home, complemented by Netflix’s streaming catalogue. “There are hardcore people who say you can’t work out and watch TV at the same time. But for me, it’s such a joy. Then I don’t feel guilty when I’m watching things; I’m actually doing something,” he says. “If I didn’t do it I don’t think I would work out as much.” Of course the right movies are essential—actioners and snappy comedies work well; slow, depressing films are best avoided. Typically published as a gleefully unknowing generalist seeking expert status, Jacobs now finds himself something of an entry-level health and fitness guru. “I try not to prescribe any medicine—I don’t have that ability—but I can use tips that I found from my adventure,” he says. “I lived it for two years, so I did learn somethin’.”