Fitness for geeks

Bruce Perry on how to get away from the computer, eat well, and live a healthy life.

Programmers who spend 14 hours a day in front of a computer terminal writing code know how hard it is to step out of the cubicle and learn how to live a more healthy lifestyle. But getting fit doesn’t need to be so daunting, and a growing number of technophiles are finding ways to make the process more appealing and relevant to their interest in data, design, and discovery. The increasing popularity of projects such as Quantified Self, smartphone apps, and gadgets dedicated to monitoring your body, generating metrics and routines for your exercise regime, and tracking your progress has created a community of like-minded geeks to share in your struggle, and even make it fun.

I recently talked with Bruce Perry, author of the just-released Fitness for Geeks, about some of the tools this crowd is using, some others they might be missing, and how the rest of us can use these tips to get healthy too. Highlights from our conversation include:

  • Debug your wetware. A programmer becomes fitter by becoming more knowledgeable about her internal software and learning how to optimize it for maximum performance and efficiency. [Discussed at the 00:21 mark]
  • Get some sleep. This one’s pretty obvious, but now there are many new ways to quantify and analyze your sleep. Zeo Sleep Manager monitors your brainwaves during sleep and displays graphs for your review when you wake up, communicating wirelessly to a software-enabled clock and the web, Use your personal dashboard to identify your sleep cycles, analyze your REM, and measure the effects of different daily events (such as a stressful day or a drink before bed) on sleep. [Discussed at the 1:54 mark]
  • Use apps to assist your workouts and quantify your health. Tools such as FitBit, Nike+, Garmin Connect, AlpineReplay, and RestWise connect you and your health to the digital world where so much of the rest of your life is lived. [Discussed at the 3:46 mark]
  • Just get outside. You don’t need a sophisticated routine, as long as you’re moving. Doing the same thing over and over tends to create a static effect that plateaus. But you can randomize your workouts to make them more interesting. Tools such as GAIN Fitness and CrossFit’s Workout of the Day (WOD) Generator will use algorithms to generate your own daily protocol. [Discussed at the 4:53 mark]
  • Fast. Intermittent fasting has been shown to lower blood pressure, normalize insulin and glucose levels, and even provide more efficient workouts while fasting. The basic guidelines for intermittent fasting is to eat only within an 8-hour window (eat dinner, don’t eat at night, skip breakfast) and go the remaining16 hours on just water, coffee, and tea. [Discussed at the 7:26 mark]
  • Resist extremes. Bruce says it’s okay to do a marathon or similarly challenging event for the experience, but that the oxidative stress can have a significantly negative effect on your overall and long-term health. Instead, revolve your exercise program around short-duration, high-intensity training, such as sprinting, followed by 30-40 minutes of high-intensity weights. [Discussed at the 09:09 mark]
  • Practice good stress. Various forms of acute stresses (known as hormesis) — such as moderate and high-intensity exercise, hot and cold exposure, one drink at night — can improve your health. [Discussed at the 13:02 mark]
  • Personal experiences with fitness apps. Bruce talks about using Endomondo, GPS data, and Google Earth to scout out an off-piste ski area, and I mention my own use of Google’s MyTracks Android app for marathon training. [Discussed at the 15:19 mark]

The full interview is available in the following video:

Fitness for Geeks — This guide will help you experiment with one crucial system you usually ignore — your body and its health. Long hours focusing on code or circuits tends to stifle notions of nutrition, but with this book you can approach fitness through science.

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  • http://www.blog.bigvanilla.com Big Vanilla Athletic Club

    Those sound like great fitness apps! It’s always good to customize your exercise routine to better meet your needs and interests – that way you’re much more likely to keep up with it! Another good app is Lose It! which helps you track calorie intake.

  • Bruce Perry

    Just a clarifying addendum to this info: You would always do different types of high-intensity sessions on different days, with rest days between them. You usually wouldn’t follow a sprinting session with resistance training, which would typically represent overtraining. You could hypothetically do a few sprints on a nice day, then follow-up with upper-body only training, such as pull-ups or weights – as in a kind of split routine.

  • Keith Macdonald

    Talking to other IT guys who lacked the motivaton to get off their chair, I found it helped a lot if their new training routine somehow combined IT in a Win-Win situation.

    Here’s one excellent example – especially for database-oriented IT folks ;-) …. GPS tracing to help update Open Street Map. Walk or run the footpaths and trails around your home and/or work, and add them to Open Street Map

    See http://www.openstreetmap.org/

  • Gilles

    Perry says that fasting can be “good”, which I am ready to believe, but he doesn’t say what fasting is good for. Is it good to lose weight? Is it good for someone who’s trying to build muscle (I doubt it)? Interesting idea, but lack of detail :(

  • http://fitnessfg.com Bruce Perry

    Intermittent fasting (IF), as explained in the book:

    1) lowers inflammation (a core problem that can lead to disease states)

    2) reduces insulin resistance;

    3) reduces oxidative stress or “free radical” production in the cell (an aspect of reducing inflammation);

    4) enhances the immune system,

    and more :)

    You may lose weight on a regular regimen of IF (say 2-3 times per week – some people essentially do an IF per day because they only eat within an 8 hour window) simply by reducing calorie consumption overall. To build muscle, you need the raw materials in terms of amino acids (like the branched chain amino acids) and overall calorie intake, but IF may help by increasing growth hormone secretions.

  • mkl

    Hi,

    I’m a total newbie when it comes to nutrition science, because I never had any
    reason to concern myself with it. I’m currently reading your book (out of
    curiosity for the topic), and from the chapter about macronutrients I have
    learned so far that human bodies reqire all three them: carbs, fat and
    proteins. That left me wondering what exactly the problem with pizza is, as
    it, like virtually every kind of food out there, contains all three of them. Of
    course everybody knows that “pizza makes you fat”, but why is that? What’s the
    difference between 46-37-17 pizza and, say, 59-31-10 stewed tomatoes? Pepperoni
    pizza in fact has a protein score of 95 which is a good thing, isn’t it?

    Thanks,
    Markus

  • http://fitnessfg.com Bruce Perry

    I love the taste of most pizza – I used to go for the brick oven flatbread variety. I only eat the paleo version now (see the crust recipe in book, from “girl gone primal” blog). The refined wheat flour in the crust is very bad (and even if it was “whole wheat”). You could write a whole book on it (like “wheat belly”).

    1) high glycemic, blasts your insulin, may lead to abdominal fat, insulin and leptin resistance, inflammation, high fasting glucose and insulin, etc.

    2) Gluten sensitivity, perhaps a problem with 30-50 percent of people – see the book Primal Body, Primal Mind. Other antinutrients like phytates prevent proper mineral digestion

    3) Non-satieting, so you eat a ton of it; thus increasing caloric intake, “getting fat on pizza”

    4) I try to eat mostly grass-fed meat and seafood; the pepperoni is a processed meat (nitrites and nitrate chemicals)

    It’s initially a bummer, but paleo pizza is delicious :)

  • Markus

    Thanks for the answer. So the problem is not that pizza contains a lot of fat, but rather that it contains refined wheat flour and processed meat. Got that. (Also got that “pepperoni” is a false friend. In german it designates a vegetable)

  • http://fitnessfg.com Bruce P.

    hi Markus,

    I like your expression “false friend.” It reminds me of refined sugar.

    One aspect I would point out around the quote ” I have learned so far that human bodies require all three of them: carbs, fat and
    proteins.”

    Some have argued that the body does not “require” carbs nearly to the level of protein and fats. Carbs represent fast energy, and the body stores relatively low amounts in the form of animal starch (glycogen), mostly in the liver and skeletal muscle. But the liver can readily make glucose out of amino acids and the glycerol part of the triglyceride molecule (which we call fat when stored or eaten). Someone who’s burning a lot of fat for energy can adapt efficiently to using ketones as fuel instead of glucose.

    We have amylase in our saliva, which seems to demonstrate that we have evolved to eat a certain amount of starch. But I think the argument is pretty strong to focus on quality protein and healthy fat, and only a moderate amount of carbs. What do you think?