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Wacky self-improvement memoir written on makeshift treadmill

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It's awfully hard to sit and read anything for any length of time when the author is relentlessly pounding the message into your skull that sitting is just not good for you.

For other than lying flat out on your back in your bed at night, what other possible way is there to read?

A.J. Jacobs, the New York-based author of three bestsellers, literally wrote this funny, wacky self-improvement memoir on his makeshift cardboard treadmill desk while chalking up over 1,000 miles.

"Sitting puts you at risk for heart disease, diabetes, obesity and some types of cancer, including colon and ovarian," Jacobs says in a more sombre moment of Drop Dead Healthy. "Never before in history have we been so immobile."

But if you don't own a treadmill, Jacobs would not likely recommend walking the streets with your nose in a book either, for that would most certainly fall somewhere on the list of causes of fatal accidents he discusses in a later chapter -- possibly somewhere in between "entanglement in bed linen" and "unpleasant contact with a giraffe."

The best way, then, to read Jacobs's latest endeavour is probably in short spurts, not only for your physical health but also for your mental health, for there is an enormous amount of information here.

"Over the last decade, I've had a bit of a fixation," Jacobs writes. Just a tad.

In 2005's The Know-It-All, Jacobs, who is also the editor at large of Esquire magazine, focused on improving his mind by attempting to read the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica.

In 2007's The Year of Living Biblically, Jacobs, who says he is Jewish (but "Jewish in the same way the Olive Garden is Italian") he embarked upon on a quest to improve his spirit by following the Bible as literally as possible.

This latest obsession started, he writes, partly due to a bout of serious pneumonia and perhaps because his wife Julie told him, "I don't want to be a widow at 45."

Jacobs, who describes himself as "a moderately, sickly blob" becomes determined to attack what he calls the "last leg of the bar stool" and to "become as healthy as humanly possible."

And attack he does. Over a period of two years, he maniacally subjects himself to various exercise regimens, diets and routines designed to improve everything from his fingers to his toes.

He crawls across logs and tosses boulders in Central Park, attempts pole dancing, dehydrates his own fruits and vegetables, joins a laughter club and completes a three-day juice fast.

He consults with doctors, specialists and researchers and undergoes a variety of unpleasant medical tests with results that are not always flattering.

Thankfully, throughout this obsessive ordeal, Jacobs weaves humorous glimpses of his life with the ever-patient Julie and their three young boys.

He also treats us to stories of his eccentric aunt Marti and his 96-year-old grandfather -- who both sadly deteriorate as Jacobs' own health improves.

There is an overwhelming amount of often-contradictory fitness advice here, but Jacobs manages to coat much of it with his kooky brand of humour and just enough screwball zaniness to make the medicine go down, all while successfully transforming his health at the same time.


Cheryl Girard is a Winnipeg writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 19, 2012 J9

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