In this blog I usually talk about technical stuff, programming and the various experiments I get to play with, and not much else. They say that the older you get, the wiser you are and I think there is a really important topic for the average geek who loves sitting in front of their computer all day: exercise and posture are absolutely important and a key to a healthy lifestyle!
(Photo by Steven Lelham)
Now I am pretty sure there are a ton of other articles and resources talking about this, so I will keep this short and sweet. I do not pretend to be an expert in this subject either, I just want to relay my experience in the hope that someone will find it useful and will think about it.
Phase 1 - The beginning
It has always been difficult for me to get into exercise, and I also am of a fairly slender constitution, meaning it's really hard for me to gain either weight or muscular mass. Not that I ever wanted to become Arnold Schwarzenegger - despite him being an absolute hero - but still...
During my high school and early university years, I spent quite some time going to the gym. I was going there like three to four times a week, for at least a couple of hours each time. I liked exercising, but I always wanted to do it on my own, and that worked well for me. I have never got into the habit of playing team sports, so it was much easier for me to decide on a training program and then stick to it.
Eventually, however, I lost interest in the gym. Didn't want to spend that monthly fee, and I started longing for an activity I could do outside. In the end, I purchased a second-hand road bike, and I started raking up kilometres on it. My hometown in Italy is fairly close to a very beautiful and scenic hilly countryside, so I could be out there in 15 minutes.
When I got to my best form, I was able to cycle for 100 - 120 Km in one session. In some cases, this would involve getting to the top of some hill (400 - 500m starting from sea level). I would go out for 3 to 4 hours and cycle, either on my own or with a friend.
I loved cycling. It taught me so much, most importantly the concept of conserving your energy so that you are able to get quite far and then return home without having to call a helicopter to extract you from some forgotten mountain road! It also helped me so much with confidence: the more I was going further from my starting point, the better I felt when I was able to complete the route that I planned to do. It felt great!
Phase 2 - The great stasis
Then - I moved to London: a new job, a new home, new friends, new everything. So many things, so little time: clearly, the first thing that got axed was cycling. My bike had stayed back in Italy, and I didn't find the thought of cycling in the London traffic very appealing. True, there are many great spots that are reachable outside of the city centre, but that is something I only discovered afterwards.
Without realizing, years have gone by very quickly and despite enjoying many things I have realized that I have neglected my exercise completely, and found every excuse to never start doing something, however little. Things have improved slightly since I moved outside London - I could do some gardening at least and ensured I got to walk every day during my commute, but that can hardly be defined as a fitness program!
With the work I do and the commitment I have at staring an LED screen all day, things did not get better. A couple of years ago I realized that my body was pretty much showing me the middle finger: wrist aches, shoulder ache, back or neck pains, nothing major fortunately for me, but a clear signal that some change was long overdue.
The COVID situation, with the forced work from home scenario, has been yet another prime example on why we really need to treat our health and fitness at the top of our priority list. It has also given many people a major chance to modify their regimens, for example with the time that is saved by not commuting to an office.
I spent some time discussing the importance of sleeping in one of my earlier posts. Let's see now what has helped me in getting my fitness journey back on track!
Tips and tricks
So, what did I do to make sure my body started to love me a bit more?
Start small and stick to it
It's easy to go overboard, over commit to too many things and then have a hard time keeping up. It is also easy to feel bad if you are not able to deliver on your promise, even if it's a pact you make with yourself.
I still remember very recently, I wanted to purchase a folding bike to cycle to work. I ended up spending a ton of time looking up all the options and comparing them, endlessly trying to figure out what was the best choice, until I lost momentum and I didn't go ahead with it. Fail.
For me, I decided to buy some rubber bands and then I looked up some exercises I could do with them. As this was when I had pain in my shoulder, I did consult a physiotherapist before, just to be sure I was not going to make it worse. The physiotherapist very politely but very firmly pretty much said the same thing my body told me as above: I just needed to chin up and start to move my limbs before they start to fall off themselves!
If you need some inspiration for light exercises to get you going, there are plenty of videos in this Youtube channel to start with: these are aimed at rehabilitation patients so you can't go wrong with these, and will be a nice starting point from the bottom of the barrel!
Set goals and track them
This is such an obvious one, and in truth, this advice can be applied to almost anything, when you want to understand and be accountable for your progress. You need to write down what you want to achieve, and how you are going to achieve it in incremental steps.
For fitness exercises, this can be done very easily with one of the many fitness applications for your mobile phone. I am using BeStronger (or HomeWorkout is also pretty good). Do use these push notifications for a good cause, let the app nag you daily about your exercise routine, instead of looking only at the daily deals of your favourite shopping app!
If an app is not your cup of tea, a good old fashioned spreadsheet may also work for you. Just make sure that you are not making a chore out of the measure and track system you pick. And don't forget the "feel good" effect when you track something and you hit your goals! If you don't hit your goals, remember that your body is not a machine and you need to listen to it. Perhaps you set the bar too high.
Create accountability. I am trying to create the widest amount of accountability by posting this blog article to the world! Granted, the world is busy with many things other than my fitness regimen; even so, I am sure someone in my acquaintances will now catch me out if they discover that I have been boasting about it on my personal site - only to fail to follow through on my commitments.
When human beings emerged from the dark meanders of nature and evolution, they were not made to sit in front of a computer typing the entire day - funnily enough, that's exactly what I am doing right now!
Whether you work from home or from an office (and even if you are at home playing Doom Eternal) you have to be conscious of your posture in front of the computer. In fact, you have to be conscious of your posture even when using one of your portable devices (phone, tablet etc...). If you work in the UK, remember that your employer is legally obliged to make sure your workstation is safe. At home, don't skimp out on your chair and desk accessories. When picking a monitor, make sure that you can adjust the height of it - and if the monitor does not support this, get some supports so that you don't have to twist your neck to look at it. Getting some wrist support for your keyboard and mouse is not a nice to have, is a lifesaver on the long run.
If you are young and fresh, chances are that you don't think any of the above is important. It is, and your future self will thank you if you take steps now to prevent discomfort and injuries further down the line. Pain can be a great motivator in these circumstances, but for now, just take my word.
Exercises ... done right
When it comes to exercising, if you are someone like me there is a significant chance that you really have no idea of what you are doing. I learnt my lesson back in the day, in the gym, when I could see the instructor approaching from a distance and then asking me why I was trying to injure myself so hard by doing this instead of that...
Nowadays - things are even easier. There are so many gym instructors (or simple aficionados) that are keen to share their expertise online. I have been thankful in the past to Youtube for so many random things:
- Drilling and installing a thumb turn lock in a bathroom door.
- Unblocking a fridge drainage hole.
- Disconnecting a screaming fire alarm gone awry.
And, once more, I am very thankful for the following channels:
It's great that there are completely ripped men and women online, spending their time to show me how I should do a plank or a push up to avoid straining my back or injuring my shoulder. You can watch a video, then do the exercise in front of a mirror (or with the help of someone reviewing your posture) to learn how to do it perfectly.
You don't need specialized equipment. Or well, you may take advantage of it but in reality, if your goal is simply to keep fit then it's not a must-have. In the end, over time I have purchased elastic bands, a mat, a couple of dumbbells and I even grabbed a cheap workout bench, but I realized that it was a bit overkill for my fitness regimen. I can do a lot of the exercises by just balancing or using my own body weight.
If you are starting from little to no regular training, you will not need any equipment to get going and start feeling the benefits. But that's just me.
I hope the above tips give you some motivation to get started in your exercising if you are not already. Don't wait too long, as I did. Our mind is in a lifelong journey that is intertwined with that of our body, and we need to take care of both - to ensure we can enjoy our stay on Planet Earth for as long as possible.
Let me know in the comments below what has worked for you!