Eleven reasons for programmers to get fit

Eleven reasons for programmers to get fit

I know what you’re thinking. You are wondering how fitness and programming are related. Why would a programmer need to get fit compared to anybody else? Well, they don’t. The reality is that everybody should take care of their physical health, but as a software developer myself who tried different sports over the years and is in decent, healthy shape, I have found physical activity to combat some of the caveats that are often correlated with a stereotypical programmer “lifestyle”. Let’s go over them and hopefully at least one will convince you to take action.

1. No more back pain

Programmers work at a desk, and we all know what sitting down all day is synonymous with - back pain. In recent years standing desks have become more popular and I’m sure they help, but nothing is better for your back than exercising. It doesn’t even matter that much which sport you choose to do, simply moving your body through the motions should combat the stiffness in your muscles caused by sitting most of the day.

2. Get some sunlight

As software developers we had the privilege of working from home even before the pandemic but this benefit became more prevalent during these last years. It’s an amazing perk of our industry, but it can have some downsides if we are not careful, one of them being not getting enough sun. If your only reason to leave the house was your daily office commute and now you work from home, you might have this problem. I encourage everybody to do a little bit of research about the benefits of spending time in natural sunlight and how much of it is needed for our health. Starting to exercise or play a sport outside is a good way to combat this without complicating things.

3. You don’t have to be a bodybuilder

Most people I know automatically think of the gym as the go-to solution when they want to take control of their fitness. I love going to the gym, it’s the physical activity I’ve done most over the years, but one thing I learned is that not everybody likes it. If you tried and failed at the gym in the past, I strongly recommend you trying a variety of sports until you find one you like. Find an activity that tests your cardio and is also fun, stick with it, and reap the health benefits.

4. Better work-life balance

A big percentage of the people I met in this industry struggle with work-life balance. Taking your laptop with you at home(or not even leaving your house with it in the first place) means it’s harder to resist the temptation of working a bit extra “just to fix that one small bug”. If you start a habit of exercising it should make it easier to create healthy boundaries because you have to leave work in order to get to specific classes/training sessions that you signed up for.

5. Practice using your intelligence for different purposes

We like to think about programmers as intelligent people, capable of problem-solving. The thing is, as a programmer, you are mostly solving the same type of algorithmic problems, which can become boring. You don’t have to constrain yourself like that, you can exercise this ability in so many other scenarios. Any sport where you compete with others requires you to solve problems. If you choose a martial art, you’ll have to be clever about reading your opponent's moves and creating a strategy to exploit their weaknesses(they even have a name for this ability - fight IQ). You’re playing football? You better think fast to decide if you pass the ball or try to score yourself. There are so many ways to keep your mind sharp and not all of them require you to burn out in front of a screen.

6. Break the “computer geek” stereotype

Even though software developers are as diverse as any other group, there is a stereotype going around where people automatically think of us as out-of-shape, socially awkward persons who dread going outside. I understand where it comes from and personally, I don’t feel offended by it, but it still is an amazing feeling to know that you decided to set yourself apart from it and put in the needed work. It’s always fun to have people surprised when you tell them you are a programmer and they weren’t expecting it because you don’t fit the mold.

7. If you live longer, you’ll get to see cooler tech!

Who doesn’t like to see what new inventions and discoveries come up every year? I do, and if you’re a programmer, chances are you do too. If you take care of your health you will live longer which means you will be here to witness as many iterations as possible of that smartphone you like. Maybe smartphones won’t even be around anymore by then!

8. Practice mental discipline that can be later used in all aspects of life

There is a reason why so many people are not in control of their fitness, and it’s because it’s hard. The good part about hard-to-accomplish goals is that they require you to develop discipline which you’ll then be able to apply to whatever you want. Keeping your focus at work, pushing through difficult tasks and completing the boring but necessary aspects of your daily job should all become easier.

9. Because you can afford to do it and you deserve it

If you are a good software developer, at some point in your life you worked hard to acquire the necessary skills. Chances are(hopefully) that your work is well paid, which prompts me to encourage you to reward yourself in the best way possible - by taking control of your health. It’s a privilege to hire a personal trainer/pay a membership to a gym, but it is without a doubt worth it. People usually think of gadgets or a vacation as the go-to reward for accomplishing their goals, but who says it can’t also be a lifestyle change for the better?

10. You don’t have to excel, sometimes maintaining is gaining

Most people were never athletes or trained on a regular basis, yet I would still bet most of the forty year olds would love to get back in the shape they had at twenty. What if they never lost that shape? The earlier you start, the easier it will be to maintain a healthy weight and cardiovascular capacity as you age. And don’t let me catch you feeling sorry for yourself that you didn’t start earlier. At sixty you’ll definitely wish you were as fit as you were at forty!

11. Get out of your own head

I’m definitely not the only programmer who sometimes, at the end of a workday, feels he spent way too much time in his own head, analyzing technical issues almost completely disconnected from the body that’s sitting uncomfortably in the chair for way too long. Strenuous exercise is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to stop overthinking and just be present in the moment. Depending on the sport you choose, the effect will be easier or harder to obtain. From my experience, any martial art will be amazing at this, since most of them include sparring with a partner at some point in the session. It’s really hard to think about the task you left unfinished while dodging fists or trying to escape a choke before you lose consciousness.

Bonus quote

"It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable" - Socrates

Final thoughts

I hope at least one of the reasons listed above will help you take action. There is so much value to gain from physical training that if you’re currently not doing anything in this area, it would be really hard for me to find another activity that will give you a better return of investment. Please spend some time and contemplate what would be the most fun and accessible solution for you to get your heart rate up and then go do it!