The Healthy Programmer: Get Fit, Feel Better, and Keep Coding

Posted on by Ben Rothke

Diet books are literally a dime a dozen.  They generally benefit only the author, publisher and Amazon, leaving the reader frustrated and bloated.  With a failure rate of over 99%, diet books are the epitome of a sucker born every minute.

One of the few diet books that can offer change you can believe in is The Healthy Programmer: Get Fit, Feel Better, and Keep Coding. Author Joe Kutner observes that nearly every popular diet fails and the reason is that they are based on the premise of a quick fix without focusing on the long-term core issues.   It is inevitable that these diets will fail and the dieters at heart know that.  It is simply that they are taking the wrong approach.  This book is about the right approach; namely a slow one.  With all of the failed diet books, Kutner is one of the few that has gotten it right.

While the title of the book says it’s for programmers, it is germane to anyone whose job requires them to be at a desk for extended amounts of time.

Kutner is himself a programmer who builds Ruby and Rails applications, and a former college athlete and Army Reserve physical fitness trainer.

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, the book notes that small changes to your habits can provide the long-term effects that can improve your health.  The book focuses on incremental changes and sustainability, not about losing x pounds in x weeks. 

The book is different (read: effective) as opposed to other diet and lifestyle books, in that its goal is to make your healthy lifestyle pragmatic, attainable, and fun.  It is only with those aspects that long-term change be possible. 

As to programmers, Kutner writes that programming requires intense concentration that often causes them to neglect other aspects of their lives; the most common of which is their health.  People’s bodies have not evolved to accommodate a lifestyle of sitting and there are many negative health effects from it.

The book takes a start small approach, rather than one of drastic changes.  In chapter 2, it notes the myriad benefits 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.

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.

Chapter 4 – Agile Dieting - is perhaps the best part of the book.  It details how to fight the real causes of weight gain and details proven solutions that work.  That chapter repeatedly uses terms like iterative, sustainable, slow to show what it really takes to lose weight and achieve 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.  Nutrition needs to be rounded and well-balanced and the fad diets for that reason will only work in the short term.

This book is everything the fad diet books are not and this is most manifest in chapter 4 where Kutner writes one should cut calories slowly.  This is based on research which shows that quick drastic weight loss is counterproductive.  While the fad diets talk about drastic caloric changes, Kutner suggests dropping your intake slower, about 100 calories every two weeks until you get you your targeted caloric intake level.

While much of the book is on fitness and nutrition, it takes a complete body approach.  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.  Kutner writes that CVS is what most programmers refer to as life.  But it does not have to be that way.

The rest of the book covers other physical ailments that plague programmers.  This runs the gamut from headaches, backaches, wrist problem, carpel tunnel, head strain and much more.  Most of these problems can be obviated if one follows proper ergonomics practices and employs some of the physical conditioning detailed in the book.

Another area where Kutner goes against the tide is with stretching.  For many people, stretching is an integral part of their pre-workout preparation.  In the book, he quotes research that stretching may do more harm than good, and ultimately provides little benefit for most people.

Another theme of the book is using goals as an impetus for change.  The book lists 16 goals which can be used as a progressive framework to improve your health.  These goals include buying a pedometer, finding your resting heart rate, getting a negative result on Reverse Phalen's test and other lifestyle changes.

Given the preponderance of obesity, diabetes and other maladies associated with a sedentary lifestyle, this may be one of the most important non-programming books that every developer should read and take to heart.

The book has hundreds of bits of excellent advice and subtle lifestyle suggestions that over time can make a significant difference to your health.

The book concludes with the observation that programmers often say the hardest part of software development begins when a product is released.  The real work, maintenance, continues on, much like your health.  You must sustain a stat of wellness for the rest of your life, and you need to continue setting goals, iterating and making small improvements,

For many programmers, they love their job but not the lifestyle problems that come with it.  For the programmer that wants the challenges of the professional and the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, The Healthy Programmer: Get Fit, Feel Better, and Keep Coding, may be a life changing book, and should find its rightful place on every programmer’s desk.


















Pragmatic Bookshelf O’Reilly 1937785319 978-1937785314 Rothke

Ben Rothke

Senior Information Security Manager, Tapad

security awareness

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