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on 1 June 2012
My latest choice of book as part of the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program was Fitness for Geeks by Bruce W Perry.
I was hoping for something light, fun and filled with recommendations of gadgets and apps that might entertain and motivate me to exercise. This book is not that. It is absolutely not a light or an easy read - it's a serious, detailed, in-depth treatment.

If you're into facts and figures, and evidence-based analysis and opinion on dietary fads, exercise, metabolism and the like, it's yer only man. I'm too much of a light-weight, I'm afraid.

There are gadget and app reviews, but they're almost secondary to the main focus of the text. The author does make recommendations of best uses of the tools available, and points to a number of excellent websites from which you can get more in depth information on the topics he covers.

Perry looks in some detail at exactly what diet and exercise do to the human body, what works and what doesn't. There's lots of science and technicality. There are also lifestyle tips, interviews and case studies. It's a thorough treatment, but a bit too thorough for me: in places I found myself glazing over as things got more technical and detailed than I could easily digest.

I'd recommend this as a great reference text to have at hand to dip in and out of when you have specific queries and want detailed information rather than a one-liner: for example, why do we need certain vitamins, and what happens if you exceed the RDA - and for that matter, what is an RDA, and how does someone decide what it should be? But it's not a fast-paced, cover-to-cover motivational read, so if that's what you're after, look elsewhere.
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on 24 June 2012
There's a movement afoot in the geek world. After decades of sitting in front of screens and only eating flat food we're finally realising that this lifestyle isn't that good for us. And many of us have decided to do something about it.Of course, being geeks we see fitness as a phenomena to be investigated, a problem to be solved. As a result we now have books like Fitness For Geeks which examines all of the areas that you need to consider when trying to get fit and presents them in a way that that appeals to the geek mentality.

The first chapter is really an introduction. It explains why most current lifestyles (and not just geek ones) are at odds with the way our metabolism has evolved. Perry's thesis (and it's a convincing one) is that it's only ten thousand years since all humans were hunting for their food and that's not long enough for our bodies to have evolved away from their hunter-gather blueprint - which means that we need to find other ways to burn off the calories which we no longer use hunting.

Chapter two switches to full-on geek mode and surveys some of the many gadgets that are available to help you lose weight and get fit. Geeks love their gadgets and this was one of the most interesting chapters for me. The idea behind most of these gadgets is that if you can measure something then you can improve it and track the improvements. For example, I was using a FitBit before I started reading the book. The FitBit tracks the amount of exercise you take during the day - basically by monitoring the number of steps you take and the number of stairs you climb. By reducing these measurements to a few simple numbers it becomes easy to see how well you are doing. I walk around more than I did before I got the FitBit and I'm always hoping to beat my previous record number of steps in a day. But the FitBit is just one device. There are plenty of other devices, smartphone apps and web sites that can help you track your exercise, the calories you eat and your progress.

The next four chapters look at input - or, in non-geek terms, food and nutrition. Chapter three explains what protein, carbohydrates and fat are and why they are important in your diet. Chapter four does the same for micro-nutrients like vitamins. Chapter five takes the science from the two previous chapters and turns it into practical advice for a healthier diet. Chapter six might be slightly controversial as it talks about fasting and suggests that you try "intermittent fasting" - where you only eat during part of they day. For example you might only eat during eight hours of the day and fast for the other sixteen. Parry highly recommends it. Personally, I'm in no hurry to try it.

Next we have a few chapters about exercise. Chapter seven talks about getting outside to walk, hike, ski or run and chapter eight is a beginners guide to the gym. Chapter nine recommends randomising your exercise program and reviews some web sites and apps that can help with that. Chapter ten goes back to nutrition and looks at some supplements that you might want to add to your diet. Finally chapter eleven introduces the idea of hormesis (or "good stress") as a way to make your workouts more effective.

As someone who is just starting to think about losing weight after after a lifetime of sitting at desks and avoiding the gym there's a lot to think about in this book. Currently, I think I'm doing well if I fit three or four two-mile walks into my week, but I've started to consider jogging too. It'll still be some time before I persuade myself into a gym. But this book has given me plenty of food for thought. And by presenting the information in a way that appeals to geeks, Perry has ensured that I'll be going back to this book regularly for the next step on my journey.

If you're a little out of shape (and, let's face it, most of us are) then I'm sure you'll find this book useful.
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on 19 June 2012
I found it hard to start this book because it meant I'd have to do something about my pot belly which is exactly the reason why I needed to read it. Not wanting to give up my beer or actually do anything approaching physical work I finally got to opening it up and was surprised that I enjoyed it.

First thing, it's for geeks as the title says. The blurb says any kind of geek (someone obsessive about a subject) but it tends towards software speak which might go over a lot of non computer geeks heads. Having said that, there is a lot of good advice that is understandable to all. Widgets and gadgets used to be the domain of proper geeks, now everyone uses them and there is a good chapter on these and how they can aid your progress tracking.

The content ranges from evolutionary fitness (is sitting in front of a screen really what we are evolved for) to a comprehensive discussion on food science (what are carbohydrates, High Fructose Corn Syrup etc) with plenty of other content (interviews, food choices, gadget guides, exercises).

It can be very heavy going if you read it cover to cover but used as a reference manual or to help you plan your diet, activity or sloth a bit at a time then it works well.

In summary, if you want to track, report and manage your exercise regime in detail then this book has plenty of advice on what to look for and possibly what to buy. It's not a page turner, but then is any exercise book? Although it says it is for nerds of all sorts, you'll need to skip the computer bits if you are not a software developer.

So, have I lost my pot belly? Nope, I'm already following a lot of the advice anyway and for me personally, it just boils down to eat less and exercise more (more than walking the dog anyway).
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on 2 November 2013
My own fault, the title suggested a more tongue in check look at fitness for geeks. It is however a little dry and full of information that perhaps I am really nor geek enough to care about. This is more for the serious reader than the joy geek!
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