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The Healthy Programmer: Get Fit, Feel Better, and Keep Coding (Pragmatic Programmers) [Paperback]

Joe Kutner

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Book Description

6 July 2013 Pragmatic Programmers

Printed in full color.

To keep doing what you love, you need to maintain your own systems, not just the ones you write code for. Regular exercise and proper nutrition help you learn, remember, concentrate, and be creative--skills critical to doing your job well. Learn how to change your work habits, master exercises that make working at a computer more comfortable, and develop a plan to keep fit, healthy, and sharp for years to come.

Small changes to your habits can improve your health--without getting in the way of your work. The Healthy Programmer gives you a daily plan of action that's incremental and iterative just like the software development processes you're used to. Every tip, trick, and best practice is backed up by the advice of doctors, scientists, therapists, nutritionists, and numerous fitness experts.

We'll review the latest scientific research to understand how being healthy is good for your body and mind. You'll start by adding a small amount of simple activity to your day--no trips to the gym needed. You'll learn how to mitigate back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches, and many other common sources of pain.

You'll also learn how to refactor your diet to properly fuel your body without gaining weight or feeling hungry. Then, you'll turn the exercises and activities into a pragmatic workout methodology that doesn't interfere with the demands of your job and may actually improve your cognitive skills.

You'll also learn the secrets of prominent figures in the software community who turned their health around by making diet and exercise changes. Throughout, you'll track your progress with a "companion iPhone app":​healthy-programmer/id576258650.

Finally, you'll learn how to make your healthy lifestyle pragmatic, attainable, and fun. If you're going to live well, you should enjoy it.


This book is intended only as an informative guide for those wishing to know more about health issues. In no way is this book intended to replace, countermand, or conflict with the advice given to you by your own healthcare provider including Physician, Nurse Practitioner, Physician Assistant, Registered Dietician, and other licensed professionals.

Keep in mind that results vary from person to person. This book is not intended as a substitute for medical or nutritional advice from a healthcare provider or dietician. Some people have a medical history and/or condition and/or nutritional requirements that warrant individualized recommendations and, in some cases, medications and healthcare surveillance.

Do not start, stop, or change medication and dietary recommendations without professional medical and/or Registered Dietician advice. A healthcare provider should be consulted if you are on medication or if there are any symptoms that may require diagnosis or medical attention. Do not change your diet if you are ill, or on medication except under the supervision of a healthcare provider. Neither this, nor any other book or discussion forum is intended to take the place of personalized medical care of treatment provided by your healthcare provider.

This book was current as of January, 2013 and as new information becomes available through research, experience, or changes to product contents, some of the data in this book may become invalid. You should seek the most up to date information on your medical care and treatment from your health care professional. The ultimate decision concerning care should be made between you and your healthcare provider.

Information in this book is general and is offered with no guarantees on the part of the author, editor or The Pragmatic Programmers, LLC. The author, editors and publisher disclaim all liability in connection with the use of this book.

Frequently Bought Together

The Healthy Programmer: Get Fit, Feel Better, and Keep Coding (Pragmatic Programmers) + Good Math: A Geek's Guide to the Beauty of Numbers, Logic, and Computation (Pragmatic Programmers) + 101 Design Ingredients to Solve Big Tech Problems
Price For All Three: 58.03

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Product details

  • Paperback: 220 pages
  • Publisher: Pragmatic Bookshelf; 1 edition (6 July 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1937785319
  • ISBN-13: 978-1937785314
  • Product Dimensions: 23.5 x 19.1 x 1.3 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 326,821 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description

About the Author

Joe Kutner has been a programmer for over a decade and he's spent many of those years researching the health issues that relate to his sedentary job. He's also a former college athlete and Army Reserve physical fitness trainer. Through his research and personal experience, he's learned that small changes can make big differences in peoples' health. Now he wants to help other programmers improve their lifestyles.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.9 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best common sense guides to health and fitness 12 Aug 2013
By Ben Rothke - Published on
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.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A health guide directed at desk-bound workers 10 July 2013
By Robert L Miller - Published on
When I heard about this book I purchased it while still in pre-release form through the publisher's beta release program. I had seen the presentation by the author at various venues regarding the health issues that a desk worker faces and things they can do to improve their overall health. I am a programmer and have really begun to feel the effects of sitting behind a desk all day for so many years.

I like the book. Its style is in the form of many of The Pragmatic Bookshelf titles and is very approachable. It can be read by people who just want to know what to do and also has detail balloons with information to satisfy people who want to know more technical information.

A few items this book addresses that I keyed into first:
-Back strain
-Eye strain
-Wrist pain (a big deal for me)
-How to evaluate and adjust the foods you eat. Being "Agile" with your dietary approach
-low-intensity exercises (with pictures of people doing them). Some you can do in the office, others you could do at home

The author also talks about how exercise and food adjustments can make you more creative and intelligent.

This book fits my approach to health much better than others I have seen because I am a desk worker, and I wanted help with things I can apply within my environment. It really comes down to happiness, and if I get healthier I equate that to having a higher baseline happiness and quality of life.

P.S. I forgot to mention that there is a free companion iPhone app which is very closely matched to the book.
5.0 out of 5 stars Much needed 26 Jan 2014
By Yuan-Yuan - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
Being a programmer myself I had to laugh at the presentation: "Unit Testing Your Health", "An Iterative Approach to Health". But I also love the fact that beyond the cliché (programmers don't ever move their butts and their diet consists of sugary soda and junk food - certainly not true in my case), the author addresses real issues: sedentary work (-> back pain issues), eye strain, wrist pain.
Both motivated me to buy the book and it's paying out.
Only drawback of the title/presentation is that office workers other than programmers might not be drawn to it. Don't let the title fool you: this book is for any office worker who values his or her health and who strives to have a healthier lifestyle.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great for anyone with a desk job 31 Dec 2013
By Wallace V Savard - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I was not a programmer but I did have a desk job (now retired) and I wish I had this book when I was working. It is very well written and easy to read. All fitness recommendations are backed up with studies. For those fitness topics where studies have not been done or where there is little evidence, it is so stated. Very practical advise that anyone at any fitness level can adapt. I would recommend the book to anyone whose job requires a lot of sitting.
5.0 out of 5 stars Agile Health! 13 Aug 2013
By M. Helmke - Published on
I sit at a desk all day. I sit with my hands on a keyboard or mouse and my eyes fixed on a computer screen. This is a terrible thing to do to one's body. I learned this first hand when, just over two years ago, I developed wrist and back pain so severe I nearly chose a different career. Instead, I talked to a doctor, read up on ergonomics and repetitive stress injuries, and made some significant changes to how I work.

I wish this book had existed back then, and better yet that I had read the book before the pain started. Even though I am healthy and doing well, I find that I must be vigilant. I get up and walk for a few minutes every hour. I take longer walks at least twice a day. I look away from the monitor frequently. Still, when I'm in the groove, it is easy to look up and realize that I have not changed my position for 3 hours. Those moments are far less frequent, and must be infrequent if I want to be able to do this sort of work the rest of my life. Same goes for you, and the sooner you realize it and adjust your work habits for the sake of your health, the better.

The Healthy Programmer: Get Fit, Feel Better, and Keep Coding is a book I recommend highly to all who work behind a desk all day, but it is especially written for programmers. While I spend more time writing documentation nowadays, my thinking patterns and my physical habits fall into the same category. This book spoke clearly to me and I think it will to anyone in a similar position.

The Healthy Programmer suggests a method of implementing changes to daily work and diet patterns that will be familiar to programmers. It is iterative, measured, and all-around Agile. You start by taking stock of where you want to go, what you want to see happen. Then, you measure how things are today and make small changes, one at a time, to your life and see how each affects the things you measured. As you get the hang of one thing and choose to incorporate it into your regular lifestyle, you measure something else and repeat the process.

We start with an introductory chapter. These lay the foundation for why some habits are good while others are not. Most of the facts are already known to us. Face it, programmer/computer engineer types are a pretty bright bunch. However, we don't always choose to apply our knowledge, primarily because of how we have adapted ourselves to the pressures of the job. Once you get past the no-scare-tactic-or-hype discussion of habits and the well-cited using academic journals research behind what the book promotes, you find yourself wanting to do the things it discusses. It is kind of like that time you heard about a new toolkit available in a programming language you love that lets you implement a feature you have been dying to play with. You can't wait to get started.

Topics covered in the book include walking, sitting vs standing, diet and nutrition, headaches and eye strain, back pain, wrist pain, exercise, getting up and out of your cube or home office, understanding fitness, and more. Everything comes with citations and balanced, scientific discussion that never gives in to hype or fad. You get advice that is backed up by doctors, scientists, nutritionists, and fitness professionals...and none of it sounds like the stuff you hear in the diet craze of the month or year. There are no vague promises, no unrealistic expectations, no fearmongering nor scare tactics. Just good information that is well presented and molded into a style of communication and plan for implementation that will be familiar to programmers.

This is a 200+ page book that can be easily skimmed over a weekend. Then, you can go back through it slowly over a period of months and let it help you be or become healthy and prevent, reduce, or eliminate pain. It is worth it.
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