Drop Dead Healthy

Author A.J. Jacobs, a sweet and funny man, invited to his house a while back to learn about walking. He was researching his new book referenced above, Drop Dead Healthy. Below is the excerpt that covers me. I have to say he was pretty spot on, and you should check out the book. He has a charming point of view.

When I comb the Internet for posture experts, I find a guy named Jonathan FitzGordon who was profiled in the health section of The New York Times. His website says he teaches yoga, but he’s most famous for his walking lessons.

FitzGordon came to my apartment the next week. I’m not sure what I expected an official Walking Instructor to look like—perhaps Phileas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days, a fastidious Brit with a crisp bowler who said “Spit-spot!” Jon was not that. He’s a burly, sweatshirt-clad forty-eight-year-old who grew up in Brooklyn. He retains a bit of an accent.

“Do you have any experience with walking?” FitzGordon asked.

Um, yes? A little? I didn’t want to come off as too cocky, but the truth is, I’ve been walking for quite some time—decades even.

FitzGordon slipped off his shoes and observed me as I stood, then as I walked across my living room. If it’s possible to cluck your tongue with your eyes, that’s what FitzGordon did.

His verdict: I’m a sloucher. My pelvis juts too far forward, my shoulders lean too far back.

I shouldn’t feel too bad. I’m just a typical American. Thanks to our sedentary lifestyle, Americans don’t know how to walk and stand correctly.

FitzGordon fishes a photocopied cartoon out of his bag. It’s Robert Crumb’s famous “Keep on Truckin’” illustration, the one with the blue-suited man leaning so far back while walking, it looks like he’s lying on an invisible La-Z-Boy. He embodies America’s problem. We lean too far back.

“Walking should be falling forward,” says FitzGordon. That’s the way we were built. “Go to the playground, kids walk leaning forward. They turn their motor on.” FitzGordon walks across my living room with his body angled forward, like Wile E. Coyote about to break into a sprint.

The key is to stick your butt out, says FitzGordon. Kim Kardashian has the right idea.

“See how Julie is standing with her pelvis tucked under?” FitzGordon says.

Julie has taken a break from work to join us in the living room. I’m not sure she expected a critique of her pelvis.

“Release it, Julie. Stick your butt out.”

She tries.

“More. More. Nice.”

Julie, her rear protruding, is giggling. She says she feels like Mrs. DeLauria, her sixth-grade teacher, who was famous for her steatopygic figure.

But FitzGordon is pleased. “Moms tell their daughters, ‘Tuck under.’ Women feel like, ‘I’m walking in the street, I’d better hide my stuff.’ I say, you better strut your stuff.”

I try to strut. I walk past the couch with my butt extended, my body leaning forward, my arms dangling. “I feel kind of like a monkey,” I say.

FitzGordon lights up. “That’s exactly what I’m looking to hear. Go ape, young man! That’s one of my main phrases.” Gorillas have flat lower backs, so they can’t lean backward.

I look at Julie and give a faux-humble shrug, as if to say, “Who knew I’d be the teacher’s pet!” Julie gives me a faux smile.

I ask John what he thinks of traditional posture advice. It’s a mixed bag, he says.

Balancing the book on your head is a good idea. “You want to lengthen the back of the neck,” he says. On the other hand, “There’s no worse instruction in the world than to have your shoulders back.” When gyour shoulders are back, your breath gets shallow. You want to breathe from the stomach.

After he left, Julie and I spent the next few days trying to walk in the FitzGordon way.

We agree we like the standing-up-straight part. “Posture!” we’d say to each other as we passed in the kitchen. With my back straight, I felt more decisive, more confident, like I’m an admiral of a midsize navy. There may be a reason for the phrase “get some backbone.”

I ordered the kids around with decisiveness. “Please do not touch my computer,” I’d intone. And they’d back away, practically saying “yessir, yessir.” Would that have happened if I were slouching? Perhaps not.

I also loved FitzGordon’s suggestion of walking with shorter steps. It made me feel more efficient. It made me speed up, mentally and physically. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my experiments: The body affects the mind. The quicker the step, the quicker the mind.

But as for the butt protrusion, it still feels odd, no matter how many times Julie and I do it. We stick out our bums, but within a few minutes, our bums have edged forward.

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