Author: Joe Kutner
Publisher: Pragmatic Bookshelf
Audience: Anyone with a sedentary lifestyle, specifically programmers
Reviewer: Sue Gee
This book's subtitle is Get Fit, Feel Better and Keep Coding - can it really work miracles?
In the preface author Joe Kutner, who as well as being a programmer is a former college athlete and Army Reserve physical trainer, writes:
Your job shouldn't hurt you, and with the right tools it won't. The heath effects of being a sedentary programmer are treatable, and in most cases reversible. This book will help guide you in that transformation.
The book has a companion iPhone app that helps you monitor your progress towards the goals set in each of its chapters - and so on.
How is this relevant to programmers and not to anyone who job involves hours behind a desk, using a keyboard? Well to a certain extent it does generalize to a wider group but you realize that it has been written by a programmer fro programmer right from the start. The preface concludes:
Let's refactor your health
and a from quick glance at the Contents page you'll notice lots of programming references in section headings: 1.1 Unit Testing your health; 3.1 Sitting Is Considered Harmful and 4.1 An Iterative Approach to Dieting.
As you might expect from a book from Pragmatic Bookshelf an agile approach is advocated throughout the book, which fits nicely with the idea of becoming leaner, which for most of us is a necessary step in becoming fitter.
The role model introduced in Chapter 1: Making Changes is Chad Fowler Ruby programmer and author of The Passionate Programmer, among other books, who went from having an unhealthily lifestyle and a weight of close to 300 pounds (136 kg) to 200 pounds (90kg) and a runner with two half-marathons to his credit.
The chapter has a list of questions designed to provide an overview of your current condition, including "Do you regularly sit for more than an hour without getting up?". So its unlikely that any reader of the book is going to escape discovering that their well-being is in danger, even those who think they are in pretty good shape. Chapter 1 also introduces the mind-body connection and the idea that healthy living can actually improve your brain function and your programming skills. It concludes with the first of the book's goals - which is to change one habit using a short snippet of "behavior drive development".
The next chapter, Bootstrapping Your Health, advocates walking. It points out that IT workers typically take fewer than 5,000 of steps per day, whereas the CDC recommends that people take 10,000 (about 5 miles) and that some of this should be done at a brisk pace. The goal in this chapter to to buy a pedometer since:
many studies show that simply wearing a pedometer is correlated to taking more steps.
This I can believe. Since reading the chapter I've already taken steps to walk more and to devote at least 20 minutes to brisk or strenuous walking. The chapter has another goal, to find your resting heart rate which you subsequently check every couple of weeks.
Chapter 3 is about the the fact that sitting for long periods decreases your life expectancy. However, Kutner doesn't advocate the use of standing desks - standing can also be bad - although he does provide the tip that a good workstation should allow you to work at three different positions.
What is required is five minutes per hour of activity and if you can't actually get up and leave your desk he has exercises you can do from your chair. The new goals in this chapter are to check your blood pressure and enhance your workstation.
Chapter 4 has the title Agile Dieting and in the section "An Iterative Approach to Dieting" it tells you to:
start a diet and don't stick with it
The idea is that you learn how to eat consciously. The chapter also advocates a balanced diet and eating five servings of fruit or veg each day and it includes the goal of counting your calories - but just for one day. Having done that you can start to adjust your caloric intake. By the end of the chapter you'll have encountered several ideas you can try to adjust unhealthy habits by making incremental changes over several iterations - which does sound like sound advice that it might be possible to follow.
Next Kutner tackles Preventing Headaches and Eye Strain, with particular reference to Avoiding Computer Vision Syndrome giving the advice to blink often and exercise your eyes by looking away from your computer every 20 minutes to focus on an object 20 feet away and look at it for 20 seconds - the 20-20-20 rule. In his discussion of headache he considers food triggers and gives advice about staying hydrated.
Chapter 6. Preventing Back Pain starts by introducing the six Kraus-Weber tests for assessing back fitness, illustrated by real people, and goes on to provide lots of back strengthening exercises. It concludes with advice on developing better posture and for this a dummy is used to model best practice.
Chapter 7 Preventing Wrist Pain includes tests for carpal tunnel syndrome, which as the author notes are not tests you want to pass. As well as providing illustrated exercises, and giving advice on reducing tension with the Alexander Technique. which is about breaking bad habits, the goal of the chapter is to take a yoga class.
Chapter 8 has the title Making Exercise Pragmatic and advocates a the Pomodoro Workout, based on the well-known Pomodoro Technique of taking a break from work after 25 minutes. In this variation the 5-minute break is replaced by, for example, a walk or sit-ups and in the example spanning two and a half hours a standing desk and a sitting desk with exercise ball is also incorporated into the 25-minute work sessions. The chapter also discusses the benefits of video games using the Wii, Xbox Kinect or PlayStation Move and concludes with online fitness games and the goal of signing up for one of them.
Chapter 9 Thinking Outside the Cube was inspired by the author's visit to Finland and focuses on our need for Vitamin D and therefore for sufficient sun exposure to produce it with one of its goals being to take an outdoor vacation.
The next goal, Take a Rock Climbing course comes in Chapter 10, titled Refactoring Your Fitness which covers measuring and improving physical fitness. Again there are lots of pictures of men exercising - but now the routines seemed strenuous!
The advice in Chapter 11 Teaming Up includes talking about health issues as well going in for team sports, with Dodgeball being suggested as an option.
The final chapter has the title Onward, Health Programmer - and if you've adopted all the goals so far the final one is Set new goals.The final tip is:
Being healthy should be fun. Keep iterating and changing until you find what makes you happy.
You don't have to be a fitness fanatic to appreciate this book - although being willing to put effort into breaking bad habits and establishing new ones helps. It is written by someone who thinks like a programmer and this is a real advantage. It doesn't come across as prescriptive and preachy but as well researched, carefully considered, experimental and pragmatic.
Recommended as a good addition to the bookshelf.