Image: Overweight © Nico De Pasquale Photography, Flickr, Getty Images

Imagine author A.J. Jacobs' shock and horror when his wife turned to him one day and, gazing at his protuding belly, said, "OK, that's it. You've gotta shape up. I don't want to be a widow at 45."

The truth is, none of this was really a surprise. The journalist and Esquire editor-at-large says he knew he was in "horrible shape. I was what they call 'skinny fat,'" he told The Fiscal Times. "I looked like a python that had swallowed a goat. I never exercised. I got winded playing hide-and-seek with my three sons. I was a moderately sickly blob."

That was about three years ago, when he weighed 172 pounds (on a 5'11" frame), with a total cholesterol count of 134 (after taking Lipitor for three years, when it hit 200). He also had abnormally low hematocrit (his percentage of red blood cells was depressed), elevated liver enzymes and a heart murmur.

In his quest to get healthy, Jacobs decided to go whole hog and "turn this into a project. I would get the best medical advice. I would consult experts on eating right, on exercising. I wanted the healthiest heart and the healthiest brain -- plus the healthiest skin, ears, nose, feet, hands, glands, genitals and lungs."

Didn't all of this cost a bundle? Jacobs, the author of the book "Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection," says he spent close to $10,000 on fitness equipment and gear, including two treadmill desks, hand exercisers, foot exercisers, noise-canceling headphones, weight vests and a special skin-tight body suit to help his muscles recover faster from workouts. He also spent out-of-pocket money on medical bills not covered by insurance, including "alternative treatments like acupuncture and the colonic, which, by the way, I don't recommend."

Through this effort -- which included turning his home upside down to get rid of toxins like plastic shower curtains with phthalates -- he got his weight down to 156 and vastly improved his health. "The best part is that I have twice as much energy as I had before. That's been the biggest bonus -- the increase in energy. I'm so much more productive."

Larger lessons learned? "We have to focus more on prevention. We have to put more resources into prevention and into teaching people how to eat well, move around, lower stress and read nutrition labels. We tend to focus on treating diseases after they've occurred, which is vital, of course. But we tend to overlook the money-saving idea of preventing disease from happening in the first place."

The Fiscal Times: What was the best piece of fitness equipment you used, and why?

A.J. Jacobs: The pedometer. For something that cost just $20, it completely revolutionized my life. It made me conscious of the number of steps I was taking, and when I saw how little that was, it made me want to walk more. Most doctors recommend 10,000 steps a day, so I turned it into a game -- talk about gaming the system, right? So I wasn't annoyed when I had to go out and run errands. I wasn't annoyed when I was walking around the house picking up my kids' stuffed animals. The heart rate monitor is great, too -- it cost about $60. You need to know when you're reaching the proper thresholds during workouts. And the treadmill desk, which cost about $700. In fact, I'm on it right now while I'm talking to you.

TFT: You're not even out of breath.

AJJ: I'm just strolling along gently. But that's better than sitting. Sitting is worse for you than a Paula Deen glazed bacon doughnut.

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