Couch Potato to 'Drop Dead Healthy'

After Scare, Scribe Turns to 'Chewdaism' to Change Life

By Lisa Amand

Published May 05, 2012, issue of May 11, 2012.
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Jacobs concluded that there’s no need to spend big bucks to get healthy. Little purchases, like dumbbells, a vegetable steamer and a pair of chopsticks, can be as beneficial as the most expensive trainer or gym.

Among his new habits: “It’s good to have five or six smaller meals throughout the day. Because I find if I get really hungry, I’ll just eat whatever.” Jacobs cites 12th-century Jewish philosopher Rambam, who said, “Only eat until you are three-quarters full.”

Jacobs said the worst thing people do in the name of health is beat themselves up for lapses. “I’m human — I slip, I regress. But I try,” he said.

But he noted that socializing with friends and family is among the healthiest things you can do: It reduces stress and boosts serotonin levels. “You’re still allowed to have feasts: You’re still allowed to binge once in a while. Like at Passover — ah, those macaroons,” he said, savoring last April’s Seder.

Jacobs’s two-year project in pursuit of better health was not intended to produce another self-help book; rather, it was meant to entertain and enlighten people. “I’m not a doctor,” Jacobs explained.

Yet, he prefers being approached for health tips rather than about spiritual dilemmas. After “‘The Year of Living Biblically,’ I was asked, ‘Why does God let evil exist? Why should I divorce my husband?’…. I’d do my best to answer.”

Included in “Drop Dead Healthy” are “Tuesdays With Morrie”-like visits with his beloved grandfather, whom he told, “I’m going to include you in the book because I’m going to live as long as you.”

“Even in his 90s, my grandpa was still involved in projects, still coming up with ideas. You can retire, but you still have to be active, have a passion,” Jacobs said.

Since finishing the book last August, Jacobs is not hitting his neighborhood Crunch as frequently, but he does exercise. For people who feel they don’t have enough time for exercise, he suggests a concentrated workout called HIIT, or high-intensity interval training: “It’s not pleasant, but all you do is go running for 30 seconds, sprinting as hard as you can, then rest or walk for 30 seconds. Then do it again, 10 or 12 times.”

These days, he’d rather be home on his wife’s ancient StairMaster, or lifting weights while watching “Downton Abbey,” than taking classes. “I must have authority issues, because I don’t like when people yell at me,” he explained.

Of all the things he’s done in his life, “This is the most surprising twist in my career,” Jacobs said.

“Basically I ignored my body for 40 years…. I think there is a Jewish stereotype that we are too intellectual and don’t pay enough attention to our body. I don’t know if that’s true in general, but for me it was. I loved to study but I forgot about the body.”

Lisa Amand is a feature writer from Brooklyn.


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