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ARMCHAIR BOOK CLUB: Drop Dead Healthy fit to read

I’m currently recovering from a weekend of summer parties, which may be an odd time to write about a fitness book.

Then again, perhaps it makes perfect sense. Drop Dead Healthy documents a couch potato’s quest to become the healthiest person on earth.

AJ Jacobs, its author, is something of a human guinea pig. For the past few years, he has constructed a series of crazy challenges and then written about his experiences. In his first book, Jacobs read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. In his second, he attempted to live according to all of the laws and rules set out in the Bible.

His latest stunt lit challenge was to try as many crazy health, fitness and food fads as possible. It was a huge undertaking. Even attempting only the most outrageous trends could have taken decades.

To bring some focus to the book, Jacobs sets aside two years for the project, and spends each month concentrating on and trying to improve the function of one major body part. He wears noise-reducing headphones, hums to reduce sinus infections, attempts a starvation diet and goes to laugh therapy.

Many of the documented fitness and food trends have already been in the news. But others were new to me and of the only-in-New-York variety.

These provided the best foils for humor. In a caveman workout, Jacobs leaps around Central Park with other troglodyte advocates, and witnesses two proponents get into a near fist fight about whether to cook their meat.

I was initially sceptical about Jacobs’ motivation for writing a third book.

Did he truly have a new interest, or was he hunting around for another gimmick to put food on the table? Other stunt writers, such as Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project, have penned subsequent books that come across as less than genuine.

Jacobs counters that he wrote Drop Dead Healthy to complete a trilogy. Having already enriched his mind, and his spirit, it made sense to retool his physical being. For the most part, it works. His self-deprecating tone and humour keep the shtick fresh. He is still passionate and enthusiastic.

Drop Dead Healthy isn’t a guide to fitness, but a few studies Jacobs highlights did stick in my mind.

One showed that sitting for too long is detrimental to our health, and even counteracting that habit by hitting the gym after work isn’t going to undo the damage. Darn. I guess could write this column while walking on a treadmill, as Jacobs did. But I suspect even he won’t keep that up for long. Soon enough, he’ll be off trying a new stunt.

Heather Allen is a writer and reader living in Penticton.

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