Book review _ The healthy programmer by Joe Kutner
The hardest thing for individuals to do is to change habits. We are so resistant to doing so. But to be healthy, we must change our sedentary habits and lifestyle to some more healthy and active ones… ‘sedentary’?! doesn’t this word sound like ‘programmer’?! Of course it does, as we are the masters of the I-spend-eighty-hours-in-front-of-a-screen lifestyle. Though, we still can take charge of our health, one small step at a time! Kutner outlines it for all of us in this book. All we have to do is follow it.
This article is another book review, of Joe Kutner’s The healthy programmer: Get fit, feel better, and keep coding. I’ll provide you with an overview of the book, and my opinion about it, then a summary and my recommendations. I’ll try to be neutral like Switzerland with this! though it’s the hardest thing to do when writing a book review!
Kutner is himself a programmer who builds Ruby and Rails applications, and a former college athlete and Army Reserve physical fitness trainer. So programmers you’ll be so ‘ in-home’ reading this book, as it’s a clean and logical set of instructions that guides us to incrementally switch to a healthier lifestyle. It tells you to unit-test your health first, and if every thing goes well, then you’re ‘a healthy programmer’ ( it means you’ve read this book before ! because I believe you cant be one, without reading it! ); else if you’re facing a certain common-to-programmers-health-problem, then read and follow the documentation and instructions in the coming chapters, as it provides you with solutions.. like setting a firewall to chairs, scaling up your body, agile dieting, or object-orienting your exercise to make it more pragmatic!
The book focuses on two areas that require change: regular exercise and proper nutrition; and it details the steps necessary to create a balanced lifestyle. While popular diet books require rapid and major lifestyle changes and promise quick weight-loss, this book notes that small changes to your habits can provide the long-term effects that can improve your health. It focuses on incremental changes and sustainability, not on losing x pounds in x weeks.
+ And that, is one of the things I loved about this book, it provides concrete, real-life tips and commands to slowly and incrementally change. It makes you review your progress, and changes your mindset to a more flexible but practical one. It uses a set of goals as an impetus for change. It lists 16 goals which can be used as a progressive framework to improve your health. It also comes with a companion iOS app to help you track those goals. So, this will make your healthy lifestyle pragmatic, attainable, and fun. It is only with those aspects that long-term change can be possible.
+ And talking about ‘being pragmatic and presenting concrete content’, this book’s basis is scientific research and real-life study cases, in the preface of the book, Kutner wrote the following in a section named ‘You can’t fool nature’: ” Unless otherwise stated, every point made in this book is backed up by scientific research. The recommendations and claims I will make are directly supported by evidence. But I haven’t accepted just any kind of evidence—nearly every study I used met two criteria: it was published in a peer-reviewed journal and the results agreed with the existing body of scientific evidence. “So the book is informative after all, it’s so rich with interesting scientific facts.
+ Another thing you’ll like about the book being a programmer, is that the writing relates to programming in a fun way. The author is naming chapters ” Bootstrapping your health”, “A firewall to chairs” and “Agile dieting”! This could only get our interest as programmers, and we would only read more of what looks familiar to us (but what we’re way far from in reality ).
First chapter of the book focuses on performing few tests before starting the exercises and tasks listed within the coming chapters. As well as realizing that change is about ‘habits’:
1- before refactoring, as any good coder knows, you have to unit test. The author asks pointed questions (have you noticed an increase in the number of cavities you’ve developed in the last five years?) for you to know your health state and presents his goal-based approach.
2- set your mind that it’s all about habits. And that habits are changeable. This chapter talks you about the science behind habits and how to reprogram yours.
You wouldn’t refactor some misbehaving code without running a few unit tests first, and you shouldn’t try to refactor your health without testing, either.
To stop an action that has become second nature, you must override the part of the brain that has memorized the behavior so that it can be performed subconsciously.
As already mentioned, the book takes a start small approach, rather than one of drastic changes.
So in the second chapter, it notes the myriad benefits of the simple act of walking:
It states that walking is a powerful activity that can stimulate creative thinking (a required trait for a good programmer) and is a great way to bootstrap your health. The chapter details the ways in which a few short walks during the day can have a dramatic positive effect on your life. It also provides interesting tips on how to make our walks effective.
You have to learn how to walk before you can run, but you also have to learn how to walk before you can walk.
Chapter 3 is about the dangers of chairs and sitting for long periods of time:
It details a number of ways to counter the dangers of sitting. It also notes that while sometimes you simply can’t get away from your chair, and when that happens, you can make sitting less dangerous by forcing your muscles to contract without even getting up. It then details a number of different calisthenics to use to do this.
Stand up right now. You can keep reading this book, but get out of your chair and stay up for the next few minutes. Congratulations; you’ve just extended your life.
Chapter 4 – Agile Dieting — details how to fight the real causes of weight gain and details proven solutions that work:
You’ll often read terms like iterative, sustainable and slow in this chapter. It shows that it really takes time to lose weight and get to a healthy lifestyle. Kutner notes that most of the popular fad diets are idiosyncratic and unbalanced. They will provide short-term benefits, but ultimately fail miserably. The chapter quotes research data on what needs to be in a balanced diet. It then notes that almost every fad diet violates those needs. This is based on researches that show that quick drastic weight loss is counterproductive. This resumes the Agile dieting chapter:
As with software, your system should be agile. If there were a manifesto for
the agile diet, it would incorporate the following principles:
• Individual tastes over predefined menus
• Balanced nutrition over idiosyncratic diets
• Counting calories over following trends
• Responding to your environment over sticking to a diet plan
Chapter 5 details the importance of eye health:
This is an important topic since the average programmer spends much of their week behind a monitor. Kutner writes about computer vision syndrome (CVS); an eye condition resulting from focusing the eyes on a monitor for extended amounts of time. Symptoms of CVS include headaches, blurred vision, neck pain, redness in the eyes, fatigue, eye strain, dry eyes, irritated eyes, double vision, vertigo/dizziness, polyopia, and difficulty refocusing the eyes. The book also details methods in which to minimize the effects of CVS, and how not to become a victim of it.
Thus, CVS is what most programmers refer to as life.
Chapters 6 and 7 are about preventing back pain, and wrist pain:
They both are similar to chapter 5 in terms of structure. Where you’ll read about testing your back and/or wrist health first, then about the causes of such pain and how to avoid it or reduce it. Both chapters come with a set of exercises and techniques detailed with pictures. Chapter 5 comes with interesting information about the Anatomy of the Back, which once you get, you’ll know which sitting positions help you more with avoiding back pain. Also, you’ll read on both of the chapters a set of pragmatic tips on how to reduce this pain, like picking a good chair, using braces and compression sleeves for your wrist pain and trying stand-up desks if needed.
Modern research upholds Dr. Kraus’s view that exercise is the most effective treatment for the kind of back pain programmers commonly experience.
Chapter 8, as it name implies, is about pragmatic solutions for all the problems listed on previous chapters:
As for most of those health problems, exercise was on top of the cures list, this chapter comes with fun tips to improve your exercise and make it more effective. It tells you to use the Pomodoro technique for your work/exercise schedule, to keep a log of your activities, and your health habits while working in your desk and use fun tools like motion-controlled video game platforms to move your body instead of taking your video-game breaks while sitting on a chair, or online workout trackers to keep the competition spirit and do more exercise and to keep a log and feedback of what you’re doing.
As we discussed in Chapter 4, Agile Dieting, on page 47, these brain functions produce dopamine, which rewards the thinker. Thus, playing a game that requires physical activity may provide a double dose of chemical rewards.
The rest of the book, which is chapters 9 to 12, are about other general tips and instructions on keeping a healthy life style. They are not specific to programmers or sedentary people, they fit for all or “for humans not programmers” let me say. They include making your body synthesize enough vitamin D and it’s importance, boosting your immune system, forest-bathing and it’s benefits, the dimensions of fitness, exercising or dieting in team, investing in our health and how joyful it is to be healthy.
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.
Otherwise, I just.recommand this book! for whoever who can read it. It can be a life changing reading. It has hundreds of bits of excellent advice and subtle lifestyle suggestions that over time can make a significant difference to your health.