How Healthy Living Nearly Killed Me: AJ Jacobs (Transcript)

AJ Jacobs – TEDMED TRANSCRIPT

I’ve spent the last decade subjecting myself to pain and humiliation, hopefully for a good cause, which is self-improvement. And I’ve done this in three parts.

So first I started with the mind. And I decided to try to get smarter by reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica from A to Z — or, more precisely, from “a-ak” to “Zywiec.”

And here’s a little image of that. And this was an amazing year. It was really a fascinating journey. It was painful at times, especially for those around me.

My wife started to fine me one dollar for every irrelevant fact I inserted into conversation. So it had its downsides.

But after that, I decided to work on the spirit. As I mentioned last year, I grew up with no religion at all. I’m Jewish, but I’m Jewish in the same way the Olive Garden is Italian. Not really.

But I decided to learn about the Bible and my heritage by actually diving in and trying to live it and immerse myself in it. So I decided to follow all the rules of the Bible. And from the Ten Commandments to growing my beard — because Leviticus says you cannot shave. So this is what I looked like by the end.

Thank you for that reaction.

I look a little like Moses, or Ted Kaczynski. I got both of them. So there was the topiary there. And there’s the sheep.

Now the final part of the trilogy was I wanted to focus on the body and try to be the healthiest person I could be, the healthiest person alive.

So that’s what I’ve been doing the last couple of years. And I just finished a couple of months ago. And I have to say, thank God. Because living so healthily was killing me.

It was so overwhelming, because the amount of things you have to do, it’s just mind-boggling. I was listening to all the experts and talking to sort of a board of medical advisers.

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And they were telling me all the things I had to do. I had to eat right, exercise, meditate, pet dogs, because that lowers the blood pressure.

I wrote the book on a treadmill, and it took me about a thousand miles to write the book. I had to put on sunscreen. This was no small feat, because if you listen to dermatologists, they say that you should have a shot glass full of sunscreen. And you have to reapply it every two to four hours.

So I think half of my book advance went into sunscreen. I was like a glazed doughnut for most of the year.

There was the washing of hands. I had to do that properly. And my immunologist told me that I should also wipe down all of the remote controls and iPhones in my house, because those are just orgies of germs. So that took a lot of time.

I also tried to be the safest person I could be, because that’s a part of health. I was inspired by the Danish Safety Council. They started a public campaign that says, “A walking helmet is a good helmet.” So they believe you should not just wear helmets for biking, but also for walking around.

And you can see there they’re shopping with their helmets. Well yeah, I tried that. Now it’s a little extreme, I admit.

But if you think about this, this is actually — the “Freakonomics” authors wrote about this — that more people die on a per mile basis from drunk walking than from drunk driving. So something to think about tonight if you’ve had a couple.

So I finished, and it was a success in a sense. All of the markers went in the right direction. My cholesterol went down, I lost weight, my wife stopped telling me that I looked pregnant. So that was nice. And it was successful overall.

But I also learned that I was too healthy, and that was unhealthy. I was so focused on doing all these things that I was neglecting my friends and family.

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And as Dan Buettner can tell you, having a strong social network is so crucial to our health. So I finished.

And I kind of went overboard on the week after the project was over. I went to the dark side, and I just indulged myself. It was like something out of Caligula. Without the sex part.

Because I have three young kids, so that wasn’t happening. But the over-eating and over-drinking, definitely.

And I finally have stabilized. So now I’m back to adopting many — not all; I don’t wear a helmet anymore — but dozens of healthy behaviors that I adopted during my year. It was really a life-changing project.

And I, of course, don’t have time to go into all of them. Let me just tell you two really quickly.

The first is — and this was surprising to me; I didn’t expect this to come out — but I live a much quieter life now. Because we live in such a noisy world. There’s trains and planes and cars and Bill O’Reilly, he’s very noisy.

And this is a real underestimated, under-appreciated health hazard — not just because it harms our hearing, which it obviously does, but it actually initiates the fight-or-flight response.

A loud noise will get your fight-or-flight response going. And this, over the years, can cause real damage, cardiovascular damage. The World Health Organization just did a big study that they published this year. And it was done in Europe.

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