The video at the bottom of this post is a 16 minute piece featuring author and Esquire columnist AJ Jacobs speaking at the TEDMed conference (the healthcare spin-off of the TED conference) about his journalistic quest to be the “healthiest man alive”. I got this video link from a friend, John Spongberg, who is a professional personal trainer whom I have known and worked with for years. He has a particular interest in the combination of exercise and nutrition and humor, so I can see why this video appealed. I know what you’re thinking: I do not have 16 minutes to watch some video. That may be the case, but it is pretty darn entertaining so read on, then watch. I recommend giving up 16 minutes of Jersey Shore to give it a view. Come on, you already know how it ends (Snookie’s drunk and arrested, blah blah).
If the video’s star, AJ Jacobs, sounds familiar, it is because he has become famous for some pretty hilarious extreme journalism antics. As he says in this video, he has been on a self-proclaimed 3-part quest to better himself: first brain, then spirit, now body. Jacob’s first effort (focused on brain) was to document his experience reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica in a book called The Know-it-All. His second book (focused on spirit) was entitled The Year of Living Biblically and describes his year living exactly according to the tenets of the bible (6 months Old Testament, 6 months New Testament). He references this book in the video by saying he is Jewish in the same way that Olive Garden is Italian–how can you not love this guy? Jacobs also wrote a book called My Life as an Experiment in which he outsources all of his daily life activities, including talking to his boss and communicating with his wife, to a call center concierge in India…hilarious. Jacobs’ books are incredibly smart and laugh-out-loud funny.
Jacobs is now 7 months into his year-long quest to become the world’s healthiest human. Working with a “board of advisers,” he is undertaking just about every diet, exercise regimen and medical test he can get his hands on, so long as they have been “scientifically proven” to contribute to better health. This is not the first attempt at health-oriented extreme journalism. Author David Duncan wrote a best-selling book called The Experimental Man in which he undertakes every medical test imaginable to understand the interactions of his genes, environment, brain, and body and what those results mean for his and his family’s future health. Morgan Spurlock went on a quest to test the anti-hypothesis, gluttony, in his awesome documentary called Super Size Me, in which he eats nothing but McDonalds for 30 days and monitors how it leads to his physical and mental decline. There are many others in this vein, but Jacobs’ promises to be damn funny and downright informative if history is any predictor.
Among the things that Jacobs discusses in the TEDMed video are his experiences with the caveman workout (where people throw boulders and run around on all fours instead of going to the gym), the extreme low calorie diet (appetizer: a blueberry; entrée: a walnut); and his favorite health-improvement product: Nature’s Platform, which is designed to return one’s bathroom experience to a healthier stance (he points out that this product is not highly compatible with reading the newspaper, which might limit its commercial appeal).
The take-away from Jacobs’ TEDMed video, and presumably from the forthcoming book, is that there is no mystery to what it takes to live a life of good health. In other words, you don’t have to be either Dr. Oz or the Wizard of Oz to know how to become a healthy human. Jacobs closes the video with 5 rules for living, which include:
- Eat less
- Always be moving (literally run your errands)
- Honor the elder version of yourself (in other words, don’t abuse your body so you get to have a healthy future self)
- Design a healthy environment for yourself (e.g., eat in front of a mirror as it makes you want to eat less)
- Use peer pressure to your advantage; Jacobs created a twitter account called @myhealthsins at which he tweets his transgressions so people will heckle him back into eating right. Sample tweet: ” Just ate a Quaker whole-grain granola bar with chocolate chips. In other words, candy.”
Considering that Jacobs undertakes tens of thousands of dollars in medical tests and spends countless hours trying products and programs to improve his health it is striking (albeit not surprising) that his recommendations are the ones we all know to be self-evident. To me this really underlines the questionable nature of so much of consumer-focused medicine.
There is a huge effort in the market to engage consumers (who used to be known as patients) to take responsibility for their own health and healthcare. This is a good thing, no doubt about it. But there is also a lot of charlatanism out there in the name of consumer-focused health, hawking products and services that go beyond the necessary and contributing to increased medical costs and crazy extreme behaviors that can’t be good for people (or people’s friends, who have to listen to them talk about this crap all the time). Jacobs talks about a doctor friend of his who has coined the phrase Orthorexia, defined as the condition of having an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. That has got to be the cruelest joke of all, right?
In other words, what we have to do to lead a healthy life is pretty clear and when people get too obsessed with it they can go overboard and become stressed out, which, Jacobs points out, is one of the worst things for your health. He closes his video reminding us to keep a focus on the joy of living while taking care of ourselves; he states that fear is a poor motivator and that without joy, health is pretty meaningless. Great advice from a guy who is entirely unqualified as a medical adviser and who makes his living being a human guinea pig,