A.J. Jacobs is editor at large at Esquire magazine and the author of four bestselling books, The Know-It-All, The Year of Living Biblically, My Life as an Experiment, and, most recently, Drop Dead Healthy. He lives in New York.
Q: What’s the most important thing you learned from writing Drop Dead Healthy?
A: I learned the secrets to motivating myself. We all know what makes for healthy behavior. It’s not a big mystery: Eat whole foods, mostly veggies. Move around a lot. Get eight hours of sleep. Don’t stress. Have close friends. Don’t smoke. That’s about it. Pretty simple.
The trick is: How do you motivate yourself to do those things? And that’s where I think I made progress.
Q: You write, “At the end of the project, I probably won’t keep up all my healthy behaviors, but I’ll keep a bunch.” How successful have you been in keeping them up?
A: I’ve kept up about half the behaviors from my book. I no longer meditate, for instance, even though I know it’s got tons of benefits.
But I exercise more, eat better, sleep more, stress less. Also, I drink coffee (good for staving off Alzheimer’s) and have a drink a night (correlated to longevity) and take naps (great for the brain). Those I will never give up.
Q: What would you recommend to others who want to improve their fitness?
A: Figure out what motivates you. Here are just a few of the strategies that work for me:
--Track your numbers. I have a Fitbit and a goal of getting to 10,000 steps a day. A huge motivator. It changed the way I look at walking, made it into a game.
--Compete. This doesn’t work for everyone, but I compete with my friends to see who can take more steps per day. I love earning the right to mock my best friend.
--Honor your older self. I want to be around to see my kids grow up, so I try to keep my future self in mind. Treat him with respect. I even digitally aged a photo of myself and put it on the wall to make this idea more concrete. It’s bizarre, but it works.
--Try a website called earndit.com
You can sync your pedometer and earn points for walking. Get enough points and you can donate money to charity. I do clean water for Haiti. So whenever I’m not walking, I feel tremendous guilt, like I’m depriving people in Haiti of clean water. Hugely motivating.
Q: Why did you decide to write the book on a treadmill desk, and are you still using that desk?
A: I’m responding to your question while strolling away on my treadmill desk. So the answer is a resounding yes.
I use it because of all the alarming research about the dangers of extended sitting. So I just took a treadmill and figured out how to balance my laptop on it. I walk (slowly) and type all day long. It took me about 1,200 miles to write the book. It actually makes me more productive. You can’t fall asleep on a treadmill.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I just started an advice column for Esquire. Or I should say, I’m co-writing it with 100,000 other people. It’s called My Huddled Masses, and it’s crowdsourced life advice.
I post a quandary from a reader on my Facebook page, and then my 100,000 followers weigh in with advice, rants, wisdom, encouragement, condemnations, etc. Then I curate the best/most interesting/funniest advice and put it in a column, along with my own take on the topic. So it's like a stadium-full of Ann Landerses and Dan Savages.
This week’s column is about whether or not it’s okay to leave the bathroom door open while peeing. I love writing it. I feel like I'm part of the largest byline in journalism history.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I’m reading and loving my friend James Altucher’s book, Choose Yourself. So maybe try that – after reading my book, of course.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb