October 8, 2007
Software developers aren't typically known for their superior levels of physical fitness. I'm not overweight, exactly, but I don't think I'll be pursuing that dream career in male modelling anytime soon. I charitably call myself an indoor enthusiast.
At the risk of generalizing-- yes, I know you happen to be the exceptionally fit software engineer that proves the rule-- being tethered to the machines we love so much often leads to a sedentary lifestyle for programmers, and a high occupational correlation with obesity.
But it doesn't have to be that way. If we can whip computer software and hardware into shape, we should be amply equipped to whip the body's software and hardware into shape, too. Consider the advice of John Walker:
I'm an engineer by training, a computer programmer by avocation, and an businessman through lack of alternatives. From grade school in the 1950's until 1988 I was fat--anywhere from 30 to 80 pounds overweight. This is a diet book by somebody who spent most of his life fat.
The absurdity of my situation finally struck home in 1987. "Look," I said to myself, "you founded one of the five biggest software companies in the world, Autodesk. You wrote large pieces of AutoCAD, the world standard for computer aided design. You've made in excess of fifty million dollars without dropping dead, going crazy, or winding up in jail. You've succeeded at some pretty difficult things, and you can't control your flippin' weight?''
Through all the years of struggling with my weight, the fad diets, the tedious and depressing history most fat people share, I had never, even once, approached controlling my weight the way I'd work on any other problem: a malfunctioning circuit, a buggy program, an ineffective department in my company.
John compiled his advice into something he calls The Hacker's Diet. According to John, all we need is:
- An eye firmly fixed on the goal.
- Will power.
- A high tolerance for pain.
In other words, we are so totally screwed. Jeremy Zawodny used the Hacker's Diet as a template, and came up with this kinder, gentler set of diet advice that's a bit less intimidating:
If you're seriously thinking about trying to lose weight, give this a shot. It's one of the easiest non-fad and non-gimmick plans you'll run across, mostly because the "plan" is very simple and tangible. It's not quite "the simplest thing that could possibly work" but it sure comes close:
- Small changes have a major impact on weight loss because they're compounded over time. It's just like saving for retirement. The sooner you start doing just a little bit every day, the better off you'll be.
- Anyone can do this. Anyone.
- The process is self-reinforcing once you start to see real results. That means you need to commit to a month--a very difficult month. After that first month, though, it's easy. And the more weight you have to lose, the easier it is.
- During that first month, you'll be developing three new habits. Only one of them is likely to conflict with an existing habit. The other two will consume maybe 5 minutes of your daily routine.
Like any proper geek diet program, Jeremy's is powered by a spreadsheet. In the end, it's basic math -- calories in minus calories out. Since programmers are legendarily obsessive, tracking everything we eat is a natural fit for us.
But reducing calorie intake through diet is only half of the equation. The other half is increasing calorie burn by exercising, or at least staying moderately physically active. A contributor to OmniNerd wore a heart rate monitor and measured exactly how many calories he burned during typical daily activities:
- 100 calories burned per hour sitting in a chair "working"
- 5 calories burned riding an elevator up twenty-seven flights
- 100 calories burned per hour watching TV or surfing the Internet at home
- 750 calories burned for eight hours of sleeping
- 220 calories burned in twenty minutes walking 11/4 miles downhill to my bus (+50 calories burned "cooling")
- 60 calories burned walking one New York City block (west-east) (+10 calories "cooling")
- 25 calories burned walking up five flights of stairs (+35 calories burned "cooling")
- 315 calories burned walking 11/4 miles uphill from my bus (+75 calories burned "cooling")
- 150 calories burned walking a dog for twenty minutes (Note: It was a slow walk, the dog is very old.)
- 660 calories burned in forty minutes of weightlifting
- 900+ calories burned in fifty minutes on an elliptical trainer
It's a reasonable set of advice: eat less, exercise more. We may do it more analytically than the average joe, but it's nothing you haven't heard a dozen times before. The problem is getting off our collective butts to do it. It's difficult to get motivated, particularly when exercise almost by definition draws you away from your obsession.
But what if we could combine our computing obsession with exercise?
Now we're talking.
The geek-a-cycle may look vaguely ridiculous. Still, I've often wondered if there was some way to combine all that time I spend sifting through content on the internet with some kind of physical exercise, instead of passively sitting in a chair. It's an interesting concept.
Greg used a similar recumbent trainer arrangement to lose weight while playing the massively multiplayer online game World of Warcraft.
Greg calls this "Warbiking". It's a clever symbiosis of carrot and stick that really worked for him.
One of the bad parts of Warcraft is it can really suck you in - I tend to lose track of time and get pretty unaware of anything but the game. It's addictive as hell! One of the bad parts of doing Cardio is that it is very boring, so I tend to be very aware of how much I'm not enjoying it and how slow time seems to get. And I hate doing it!
Warbiking is the best of both worlds. I get to do 2+ hours of cardio without being aware that I'm really doing it. And as I can only play Warcraft while doing cardio (that's a self imposed rule - no cardio, no Warcraft), it's self regulating. No way am I going to play for 6 hours; my legs wouldn't do it. I did hit 4.5 hours one insane Sunday afternoon, but I won't be doing that again any time soon.
If you're more of a console gamer, there's the Gamercize. You insert the device between your controller and your console. The device monitors your physical activity, and will disconnect your controller if you fail to sustain a certain minimum level of physical activity.
The gamercize is appealing because it's universal. It works with any game, but it's not exactly interactive.
Perhaps the best example of a game that integrates physical activity with actual gameplay is Dance Dance Revolution.
DDR is one of the few games my wife enjoys playing with me. It's available on every platform under the sun, and even has a free open source PC equivalent in StepMania. The songs have a wide selection of skill levels, from ultra-klutz to ninja. If you can get past the natural aversion most people have to making themselves look ridiculous while doing something approximating dancing, it's really quite entertaining. And it's definitely a workout.
You might argue that none of this is really necessary. Wouldn't it be easier to drop all the diet spreadsheets and electric exercise contraptions and cultivate a traditional physical activity as a hobby? Say, something like soccer, or tennis, or cycling?
Sure. It would be easier-- if don't you mind losing all your geek street cred in the process.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
Disclaimer: I'm only a geek in training (in fourth year of Computer Engineering degree, with a specialization in Software Engineering) and I'm also military (OCdt at Royal Military College of Canada), so fitness is something I've been brainwashed into.
I've never really been overweight, but I did let myself get a little too out of shape in second year.
I started out doing the classical military PT - running, push ups, sit ups, pull ups. This quickly got boring, and yielded fewer and fewer gains. Eventually started hitting the weight room with friends. Set up a program of different exercises - also got very very boring as I would spend a couple hours in the weight room and saw very little improvement.
Then I discovered CrossFit (http://www.crossfit.com)
The workouts are generally 20 to 30 minutes, very intense, always competitive (all workouts are timed or trying to lift more weight) and there's always something different - one of the key principles is variety.
This is not as simple as just going out and walking - jumping into the workouts posted on the main page is asking for pain and injury. But the benefits from sitting down and learning about the principles and learning the movements are outstanding. I'm in much better shape now(a few friends have commented that I'm more 'cut' now, but I haven't really bulked up - even though at ~165lbs, I can deadlift 335lbs), no more pain in ankles/knees from running (because I don't run as much).
I know I sound zealous, but I am convinced that if you're looking to get fit, CrossFit is the way to go.
Oh, and there are plenty of ways to nerd it up. Every workout has a specific metric, so there is an opportunity for stats-galore. There's a CrossFit Journal and a message board.
i am from Qatar my name Abdulazize but my nick name is AZOZ and i would like to say i was thin my brother kick my ass every day but i do DDR and i have doing DDR for 6 monthes and some boxing more eting and now i am better than ever
I know someone that plays both DDR and StepMania. The sad part? She plays StepMania with the arrow keys...
sure, if crazy, so funny xD
I have thought it would be nice to have a treadmill or cycle attached to my desk at work. If someone would invent one that would power a computer or workstation, my company might even buy it!
and i don`t need that.... :)
I used the Hacker's Diet for a couple years in conjunction with a pretty decent exercise regimen with my bowflex. After a while I became frustrated with the spreadsheet from the Hacker's Diet because the formula it uses can lag what's really going on. I developed my own smoothing formula with less lag that I started using to make my charts. After friends and family started having me make charts for them too, it became really time consuming.
I recently put together a google app engine site that is free for anyone to use. It uses the less lagged formula to generate weight charts from your daily scale readings. It works well for my friends and I, maybe some othe people will find it useful too.
Eventually started hitting the weight room with friends. Set up a program of different exercises - also got very very boring as I would spend a couple hours in the weight room and saw very little improvement.thanks for such nice post.
hehehe, i wrote a DDR esque game set only to kelly clarkson songs for a class summitive back in high school. goood times.
Just another suggestion, give racquetball a try. For being in the "enclosed space" you definitely get a great workout and I got hooked on it! I used to run and still have the bug, but not always the distance or time. I meet with my father in law and have met some other folks along the way that are great friends.
Racquetball becomes a skill game in a lot of ways so you can quite easily mix it up with the older or younger crowd that is at the same skill level as yourself and learn a lot.
While membership fees can get pricey, you can get yourself a decent racquet and equipment for about $100 and it'll last a lot longer 8^D
Great post, Jeff.
One thing I have to disagree with however, is the notion of "don't snack, only eat when you're hungry."
My girlfriend and I (both sedentary workers who loath exercise) have been on the South Beach Diet for about a month and have had excellent results. I know, I know, fad diet, right? Actually not. It's simply a diet that avoids/reduces carb and sugar intake, as well as eating 5 OR 6 SMALL MEALS A DAY.
Granted, these snacks are healthy, not goldfish and chips. Research has shown that eating more often actually raises your metabolism and causes your body not to store fat, since it knows that more food is coming. Eating like a snake on the other hand (one or two large meals a day), causes your body to store everything it can for longer periods of time.
So if you can snack healthy, eating more is actually a good thing, and I've had great success with it.
I'd like to see the Gamercize cut off the Wii-mote.
What a great blog to stumble by! Although I am now an avid fitness enthusiast and lead a very active lifestyle, I wasn't always this way. In fact I, too am an engineer by trade. And although I was very successful at my profession, there was something missing... I didn't feel good about myself when I looked in the mirror. And although physical appearance isn't everything, it does count for something and can have a major impact on how we view ourselves and the world.
Nowadays, I still spend a lot of my time in front of a computer but I also make sure to make time for exercise. And the best way to go is setting realistic goals for yourself along the way. Make small, but significant changes in your diet and increase your physical activity level any way you can. It might push you out of your comfort zone but will ultimately be a poositive, life-changing experience!
Best of luck!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Harry Johnson Jr is the 1998 Body For Life Champion - You can learn more about losing weight and getting into great shape at his blog, www.harryjohnsonjr.com
I recently started something like this. I've always loved stair climbers, and do bought one and try to use it nearly every day. The trick is to "waste time" while climbing, so the minutes just fly by. Playing civilization or uniwar on the iPad, or surfing the web (blog reading!) are great for this. All of a sudden, it's like "ding!" whoop?! My 45 minutes are up?!?!
Catch up on email during my cool-down, hit the showers and come out with a brain full of oxygen and get to work. It's GREAT!