The Healthy Programmer: Get Fit, Feel Better, and Keep Coding by Joe Kutner
published by The Pragmatic Programmers, 2013
You really don't have to be a programmer to benefit from The Healthy Programmer. Anyone with a sedentary job in which your fingers jump around a keyboard, but the rest of you rarely moves at all needs to think about the long-term repercussions of the way they spend their days. As a 30 year veteran of the systems administration and computer security fields, I have to wonder whether having read a book like this 20 years ago and taken its advice to heart, my health and frame of mind might be dramatically better today. But I'm seriously glad that I'm reading it now. It's going to help me change the way I work and the way I live.
Sure, I'm not the first Unix sysadmin who needs to lose weight nor the first to find out that she has a vitamin D deficiency. But maybe I'm the (one of the?) first to fully grasp the extent to which my work habits and, more than that, my living habits have deprived me of fitness and the things that I can do to turn the problem around. And all this because I just read The Healthy Programmer.
The Healthy Programmer is not a frivolous book. It's not a book that describes fad diets or questionable exercise routines. On the contrary, the thing that impressed me right away about this book was how much it's based on solid scientific research. It is exceedingly well footnoted and includes a 16 page bibliography that demonstrates how much scientific research is represented in its nearly 200 pages.
Problems that sedentary workers are plagued with today include health issues such as these:
- back pain
- carpal tunnel
- heart problems
- irritable bowel syndrome
- upper limb syndromes
- vitamin D deficiencies
- low mood and energy disorders
When you take advantage of the science represented in this book, you will not be surprised that people who don't move much, who stare at computer screens for more than eight hours a day, who spend little time in the sunshine, who eat pizza and chips at their desks for lunch, and who likely never think about whether their work stations are ergonomic are beset with all these problems.
What surprises me is not the commonality of health issues that plague both programmers and their systems and networking colleagues, but how small changes in our daily routines can address, reverse or avoid them.
- frequent movement -- 5 minutes of every half an hour getting up and moving around or doing foot pumps under your desk can improve your physical condition
- drinking water instead of soft drinks can reduce headaches and improve your immune system
- keeping track of what you eat helps you eat less
- walking stimulates creative thinking and problem solving
In fact, it's quite surprising to note the amount of worthwhile exercise that can be done at your desk -- exercise that matters and moves you toward fitness. Adding movement to your daily routine and paying more attention to your nutrition will, in the long run, pay back more
than learning another computer language or protocol ever could because you're like to be more productive at work and more energetic overall if you do.
Just from walking alone, you can expect aerobic improvements, an increase in your muscle strength, and a lowering of your blood pressure. Brisk walking helps even more, especially if you can work up to 10K steps per day; and the book offers tips on how to do this safely.
But even if you can't walk a mile a day or replace your desk with a stand-up desk or one with a treadmill, simple changes such as glancing away from your screen to prevent eye fatigue can improve how you feel.
The Healthy Programmer provides both insights and advice on how to change your daily routine and your diet, how to prevent problems such as eye strain and wrist injury, and how exercise improves your ability to solve problems and strengthens your memory.
The book includes these chapters and sections:
1. Making Changes Unit Testing Your Health The Mind-Body Connection An Iterative Approach to Health The Science Behind Habits Reprogramming Your Habits Retrospective 2. Bootstrapping Your Health Thinking On Your Feet Walking Your Way to Better Health The Time of Your Life Learning How to Walk Getting Out the Door Retrospective 3. A Farewell to Chairs? Sitting Considered Harmful Standing Up For the Truth Enhancing Your Workstation Retrospective 4. Agile Dieting An Iterative Approach to Dieting Balanced Nutrition Over Idiosyncratic Diets Eating Your Brains Out Counting Calories Over Following Trends Adjusting Your Caloric Intake Individual Tastes Over Predefined Menus Retrospective 5. Preventing Headaches and Eye Strain Unit Testing Your Vision Avoiding Computer Vision Syndrome Avoiding Headache Triggers Treating Headache Symptoms Retrospective 6. Preventing Back Pain Unit Testing Your Core Muscles Understanding the Anatomy of the Back Strengthening Your Powerhouse Developing Better Ergonomics Retrospective 7. Preventing Wrist Pain Unit Testing your Wrists Understanding the Causes of Wrist Pain Using Exercise To Prevent Pain Reducing Tension with the Alexander Technique Restricting Movement with Braces Retrospective 8. Making Exercise Pragmatic Exercising Your Brain Taking Healthy Pomodoro Breaks Keeping a Log Playing Games With Your Health Taking Your Fitness to the Web Retrospective 9. Thinking Outside the Cube Dosing on Vitamin D Shedding Light on the Vitamin D Hype Boosting Your Immune System Dealing With the Common Cold Thinking Under the Trees Retrospective 10. Refactoring Your Fitness Warming Up Understanding the Dimensions of Fitness Unit Testing Your Fitness Upgrading Your Hardware Retrospective 11. Teaming Up 12. Onward, Healthy Programmer Continuous Improvement Creating Social Habits The Joy of Being Healthy A1. Goals A2. Examples Examples of Fruit/Vegetable Servings Example Day A3. Further Reading Books Publications A4. Bibliography
I wasn't at all surprised by the disclaimer at the front of the book that warns about how the book isn't intended to take the place of or conflict with advice from your doctor but, frankly, most of the messages in this book that have hit home for me are things my doctor has never talked to me about or even hinted at. So, as someone who had nearly given up on the idea of ever again feeling fit, this book is as encouraging as it is eye-opening. A must read for any sedentary worker who cares about himself and his career.
The health effects of leading a sedentary life are treatable, reversible and avoidable.
This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?