Computer programming requires extraordinary concentration that often causes us to neglect major aspects of our lives. The most common of which is our health. Our bodies haven’t evolved to compensate a lifestyle of sitting all the time, and there are many negative health effects from it. Fortunately, the rest of us don’t need quite that much activity to stay healthy. In fact, very small changes in your lifestyle can have profound effects on your wellness. The health effects of being a desk-bound programmer are treatable, and in most cases reversible.
A programmer’s routine is very hectic. Horrible bosses (not all of them), tough deadlines, brainstorming, problem solving and above of all, late sittings (what we call ‘nighters’ in our language) spoil our health. All the above situations and scenarios lead to depression, smoking, stress eating, in short, screwing up your health.
The core reason to practice health measures is that your life depends on it. But the second most important reason is that your career depends on it. We often meet programmers whose backs are in so much pain that they cannot sit at a desk and whose wrists have been injured by their repetitive use of a keyboard and mouse. These injuries can make your job unpleasant and in worst case, impossible. Beyond minor ailments, a life of programming can lead to an early death. That claim may sound extreme, but the leading cause of death in the United States is heart disease. Furthermore, conditions like type-2 diabetes and obesity are on the rise. The programming lifestyle contributes to these problems, but in most cases they can be prevented through exercise and nutrition. We’ll discuss causes of these and other health problems. Then we’ll discuss about overcoming them.
Sitting is Injurious to Health
Yes, literally, it is injurious to health. Sitting is considered harmful. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts asked a group of healthy young men to walk around using crutches and staffs such that the muscles in their left legs never contracted. After only two days of lethargy, the scientists biopsied muscles in both legs. In the left leg, the DNA repair mechanism had been disrupted, insulin response was dropping, oxidative stress was rising, and metabolic activity within individual muscle cells was slowing.
For programmers, this sounds awful. Sitting in front of computer is our passion and our career. But you can avoid the consequences of sitting by just adding a five minutes activity every hour as a break. As simple as walking to bathroom is sufficient to improve your metabolism.
We Love Unhealthy Diet
As programmers, we drive ourselves to unhealthy extremes to achieve some powerful goals. We might rush to the drive-thru on our way home from work, eat at restaurants every day with our colleagues, or grab a lot of fizzy drinks and candies in the office because we don’t have time for lunch. And above of all we have made up our minds that intake of caffeine is the only way to remain active and be a super-programmer due to which we are smokers, coffee addicts and fizzy drinks lovers. In all cases, we’re developing extremely bad eating habits. If you want to correct those habits, you must become aware of them.
Customizing and balancing your diet is very important because every person’s needs are different. Some people like fruit and some like vegetables. Some people need to lose weight while some need to gain weight. In some cases, issues that are driving unhealthy diet are a result of psychological and emotional stress. You should overcome this by either visiting a doctor or self-mentoring yourself mentally about how to handle stress and emotional pressure.
To improve your dieting habits, consult a nutritionist, make a diet plan and strictly act upon it. Include as many servings of fruit and vegetables in your daily diet as you can. Drink plenty of water and reduce the amount of carbohydrates-heavy items in your food, which lead to insulin resistance in your body and which is medically known as Diabetes type-2 or pre-diabetic stage. Reduce eating oily and creamy foods which cause high cholesterol levels and a high triglycerides count which may lead to various heart diseases.
Ouch! My Back Hurts
A programmer typically spends more than 40 hours a week sitting in front of a computer. Very few of us know how to position our bodies on a chair. As a result, many programmers develop chronic back pain due to incorrect sitting posture and poor chair ergonomics.
You can test your back core muscles strength by performing Kraus-Weber Test.
If you pass all the Kraus-Weber tests, congratulations. If you fail, then you seriously need to visit a doctor.
Apart from incorrect sitting posture, you should also have a good ergonomic chair that can adjust according to your weight and postures. In fact, a good chair can greatly improve your posture and reduce back pain but, it is also possible that your chair is perfect. You might sit in wrong posture. The correct posture is dependent on your physical characteristics. Adjust your chair height so that your back is supported properly and it can support your spine, distribute your body weight evenly and keep your feet on the ground while sitting.
If you are a programmer or a gamer, you may have experienced wrist pain that includes numbness and feeling pins and needles in wrists and hands due to immense use of keyboard and mouse. We, programmers have to rely on our hands to craft some logical masterpieces. We are driven by deadlines and are often required to work late at night.
There is very little space in the wrist. The nerves, the tendons, the muscles and the blood vessels have to squeeze together through a bunch of small moving bones. This causes friction, tension, stretching and gradually a small amount of damage to the soft tissues residing inside, which leads to Repetitive Strain Injuries. You can get rid of wrist pain by doing some simple exercises on daily basis. You can read more here.
Headache and Eye Strain
Programming involves a lot of creativity but headaches are one of the leading productivity-killers for programmers. Most of the headaches are directly related to eyes. The most common ailment which more than 80% of people who spend 3+ hours on a computer daily, are experiencing is Computer Vision Syndrome. It is one of the major headache triggers which is in worse cases, lead to even hallucinations.
Having the correct lenses is important because without them your eyes will have to work harder to focus. This fatigues the muscles around the eyes, which can lead to headaches and even more problems with your vision.
Here is a checklist which will make sure you are practicing healthy vision measures:
- How far your face is from the computer screen? Your monitor should be no further away than 40 inches and no closer than 20 inches. This is roughly the length of your arm, so that you can test this by yourself pretty easily.
- Is the computer screen is brighter than the lighting of the rest of the room? A high imbalance between screen’s brightness and room’s lighting quickly fatigues your eyes. If your office has natural lighting, you need to adjust your display’s brightness throughout the day. You can install f.lux for this purpose which takes care of screen’s brightness using your location. Also, it automatically keeps on eliminating blue hue over the period of day as the sun sets.
- Is there excessive glare on your screen? If you can see your face or a clear reflection of the background then it means that there is enough glare on your computer screen. Apply a matte or glare-free screen protector on your display or get a glare-free display as soon as possible.
Here are some best practices you can include in your daily routine to avoid CVS:
- Blink you eyes more often. When working on a computer, you tend to blink less often or even so focused that you forget to blink. Blinking keeps eyes moist and wet. You can read full study here.
- Your eyes become tired and fatigued when focusing on a single thing for a long time. Exercise your eyes by taking your gaze away for some time. 20-20-20 rule is the best for this purpose. The rule states that after 20 minutes of work, look away from computer at a distant object 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
- Use anti-glare polarized lenses to reduce glare and eye strain. These type of lenses are effective at reducing irritation, dryness and tiredness.
To avoid headache, reduce your intake of caffeine and fermented foods. Visit your doctor if you have still headache even after avoiding these triggers. Go for an eye exam and get proper treatment.
Life is a gift from God Almighty and is very precious. It an individual’s responsibility to take good care of it. So, create good social habits and set new health goals. This is your life, your vision and aim is much greater and important than making yourself ill and demotivated toward achieving your goals.
- The Healthy Programmer by Joe Kutner