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Health Problems Related to the Geek Lifestyle 495

jonasj writes "A doctor and former programmer has written a good article on common geek health problems. From the article: 'If I were to go and try to run a few miles this weekend, I would not be able to easily do so. [...] However, if you take one of the these college basketball athletes, any of them would be able to run miles without even breathing heavy. However, if you made them sit down and try to learn Java for 12 hours a day, most of them would be asleep at their desk before lunch. The typical geek trains their brain to be heavily focused while multitasking day after day. Is it surprising that this same brain does not do well when forced to isolate down to one task?'"
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Health Problems Related to the Geek Lifestyle

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  • lol (Score:3, Insightful)

    by merlin_jim ( 302773 ) <James.McCrackenNO@SPAMstratapult.com> on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @03:46PM (#15069828)
    Is it surprising?


    I mean come on everyone knows - if you don't excercise then you don't have strength and endurance.

    And the computer geek lifestyle leaves little time for excercising.

    Same thing with a professional basketball athlete - he does muscle and coordination training for hours daily. He does not practice abstract semantic concepts in his head while making those baskets, either.

    I'm really not seeing where the story is here.
  • by haluness ( 219661 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @03:47PM (#15069838)
    I've always found it funny that 'geeks' revel in the fact that they can't be healthy. Stupid stereotypes.

    Excercise is a good thing - yeah, it takes a bit of effort (and cursing) to get into it, but once you get into the habit, everything just seems to flow better - smoother thinking, better sleep and so on.
  • Whatever. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by j1bb3rj4bb3r ( 808677 ) * on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @03:47PM (#15069839)
    This guy is a quack.
    I'm sorry, but putting up an excuse for not being physically active because your brain can't deal with only handling a single task is specious at best.
    There are plenty of us programmers, geeks, and nerds who still engage in sports and athletic activities. I have my degree in Computer Science from the U of A, graduated with a > 3.5 GPA, work as a software engineer, and yet I still play soccer, go to the gym, mountain bike, snowboard and can run a mile no sweat.
    Just cause this guy can't is no reason to stereotype the rest of us.
  • by offput ( 961196 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @03:48PM (#15069855)
    I'm not healthy because I spend all my spare time staring at a monitor reading /. and watching movies/tv shows. If I really wanted to, I could dedicate some of my excess spare time to exercising (as athletic people already do). It's a matter of mindset; athletic people - even if they are tied up and forced to learn java - would still go out and play sports and be in good shape and geeks don't have the drive. We're lazy.
  • This is insulting (Score:1, Insightful)

    by level_headed_midwest ( 888889 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @03:51PM (#15069899)
    Yes, I consider myself a tech enthusiast and know my way around most things electronic (and mechanical) pretty well. I would not be posting here if I wasn't.

    But to make a blanket statement that people who are techies have poor health habits is absurd. I go run, ride the bike, and go lift very often- I have at least 40 minutes of hard physical activity a day. I ran a half-marathon in under an hour and a half and put up 235 pounds on the bench for anybody who doubts me. I also rarely eat fast food. I bet I can out-run and out-lift whatever journalist wrote that crap, as well as be able to keep my computer rid of Viagra pop-up ads.

    This kind of crap sickens me like it should sicken 95% of the other tech people who are not in any worse of shape than the average non-techie desk jockies and couch potatoes.

  • by rueger ( 210566 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @03:53PM (#15069918) Homepage
    Several years ago I finally figured out a few things.

    If I do one thing at a time it gets done faster, and with better results than if I try to multitask.

    If I get out for exercize - any exercize - a couple of times a week I feel better and can work more productively.

    If I limit work to something like 9-5 (well, actually 10-4) I get more done, with better results.

    If I have interests outside work like art, or film, or reading, or just hiking in the woods, my work improves.

    Despite the Wal-Martization of work in North America, it remains true that a healthy, balanced lifestyle allows you to work faster and more productively.

    Yes, the less that I work, the more that I am able to do.
  • Shenanigans on #4 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mspohr ( 589790 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @03:57PM (#15069956)
    I call shenanigans on #4 Poor Attention Span.

    This guy is clueless and confused. He even proposes a genetic basis for the problem. First he states that "Poor Attention Span" is a problem for geeks then his argument is that they have a GOOD attention span and get bored when running... which is it?

    Some of my best programming time (problem solving) happens when I am running, XC skiing, etc. You have to pay attention and multitask to perform any exercise (as well as program). If you get bored and don't pay attention while running, you'll fall over.

  • by aapold ( 753705 ) * on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @04:00PM (#15069987) Homepage Journal
    I disagree completely. I fit most of the geek stereotypes, but I typically focus on one thing to the point of complete oblivion of all else, especially when coding. I ignore the time and other things that get in the way. When forced to break my train of thought, it can take me like 5-10 minutes to get back the state I was in before where I have the complete grasp on all aspects of what I'm working on.
  • by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @04:01PM (#15069995) Journal
    yea, it's actualy quite a stupid stereotype.

    Geeks are just another subset of the populace that stops engaging in any kind of physical activity once they get out of mandatory athletics in middle/highschool.

    You didn't have mandatory athletics?

    But the point remains that large numbers of 'adults' don't excercise, or even worse, they pay for a gym membership and don't go. Only two or three of my friends regularly exercise. The rest just eat right.
  • by Schezar ( 249629 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @04:03PM (#15070020) Homepage Journal
    I'm a geek. I work for IBM. I run several websites in my spare time. I play German board games. I watch anime, and in fact ran the largest anime club in the US for several years. I do a freaking podcast four nights a week.

    You want to know what I did last Sunday? I climbed a mountain. Yesterday, after work, I ran 4 miles. Today, I'm going to run another 4. Last week, I biked 10. I lift weights. I play DDR.

    Being a geek has NOTHING to do with being a lazy fat ass. Using that as an excuse is pathetic. A pasty, weak geek sitting in his parents' basement in front of a computer is no better off than a pasty, beer-bellied sports geek sitting in his livingroom in front of a TV.

    Mind and body are both important. To exercise one at the expense of the other is unbalanced and unhealthy (severe medical problems aside). The Greeks knew this. The Romans knew this. It's nothing new.
  • by Jason Earl ( 1894 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @04:04PM (#15070025) Homepage Journal

    Exactly. I fail to see how spending 20 minutes a day either running or lifting heavy crap over my head somehow makes me less intelligent. Nice try. If you aren't working out on a regular basis you are either ignorant as to the many benefits of physical fitness, or you are extremely poor at managing your time.

  • by Vancorps ( 746090 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @04:08PM (#15070071)
    You really think if you tie up an athletic person for 12 hours a day learning java that they would have the same energy to exercise at the end of the day?

    Yes they would still exercise but I would bet the longer they are tied up the less exercise they will do until eventually they are doing none at all. I've seen this happen many times. It happened to me. I used to play soccer and basketball. Believe it or not it takes a lot of energy to devote yourself to any task. I have a lot of friends in med-school, they are busy studying. Yes they still get some exercise in but it is a lot less than they used to.

    Geeks are not lazy, they are willing to work as much as anyone else. I think you mean geeks don't have a lot of energy. You don't see too many people in IT blabbering away at 50,000 words a minute with enough energy to party it up for 4 days. Yes there are exceptions but, well, they are exceptions.
  • Re:Whatever. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by breaston ( 545036 ) <breaston AT hotmail DOT com> on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @04:11PM (#15070092) Homepage
    Wow, tiny bouncers:)
  • Re:lol (Score:3, Insightful)

    by merlin_jim ( 302773 ) <James.McCrackenNO@SPAMstratapult.com> on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @04:11PM (#15070095)
    You make an excellent point. I know many geeks that have physically demanding hobbies - cycling is very popular, for instance.

    I was an olympic hopeful for fencing - I hope one day to pick it up again but being confined to a wheelchair kind of prevents that lol

    And I, like you, used to put my physical training time to good use mentally as well.

    Are there geeks out there that don't get enough excercise? Oh yeah. Is it everyone? no. Is it a majority?

    Ummm... probably?
  • by akheron01 ( 637033 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @04:16PM (#15070144) Homepage
    Actually, because of the increased oxygen pumping through your brain as well as the improvements in sleep habits that occur when one exercises regularly if anything it should make you MORE intelligent.
  • Re:Tell me when (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jtaylor00 ( 670164 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @04:17PM (#15070146)
    Maybe you should find a different job if the 'rule' is to work 9 to 9, 5 days a week, every week. Unless of course you are getting paid overtime.

    My life got much more enjoyable when I realized that work is just that...work. I've got better things to do than sit in an office for 12 hours a day.
  • by blair1q ( 305137 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @04:24PM (#15070234) Journal
    here's the irony:

    the more you exercise, the less you feel like you need to stretch or get massaged

    using your muscles stretches and massages them

    much back pain is impacted muscular tissue that you'd think could be helped with deep-muscle massage

    some is strained muscular tissue that needs stretching and strengthening

    working that tissue the way it's designed to work opens up the channels for blood and lymph and makes the fibers more supple

    no more pain

    oh, and one more benefit: after the first few workouts, you'll probably stop getting post-exercise soreness as well; in fact, you'll be tempted to think you're not progressing because of it; that's when you start increasing reps (from 5 reps to 12 or more in 2-rep increments per session) and weight (add an increment when you hit 12 or more reps and go back to 5 reps), and improving your strength; you still won't feel sore, but you'll know from the numbers that you put up that you're getting something out of it
  • Re:So get up! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cayenne8 ( 626475 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @04:43PM (#15070456) Homepage Journal
    "... tend to only focus on traditionally geeky things. After I graduated college, I decided to take up hobbies..."

    Well, it is also hard to find the hours in the day to do it 'all'. Right now, I've got an extra PITA in that my job is moving around the state (post Katrina)...I now have a commute that is about 1 hour each way...worse if I hit traffic. So, I now have 2 hours of the day just travelling, which I've never had to do, but, I know lots of others do. But, say you have 2 hours travel, 8 hours work, and say about 1 hour or so to cook, eat and put things away..add maybe 1 more hour for getting up and ready in the morning, that's 12 hours...with 8 hours of sleep, that leaves maybe 4 hours in there somewhere..and that gets lost often in the middle of the other activities...

    Before I had to do this, my schedule was pretty full, up at 6am..walk dog, get ready, work at 8am..off at 4:30, to gym...1.5-2 hours, get home about 6:30, take out dog, cook, clean, pack lunch and gym back for next day..by then it was close to 9pm...watch tv for a little and try to crash about 10:30 or 11pm.

    I had a hard time squeezing anything else in to that schedule...and I don't have a wife and kids to bother with. People with full blown families, I don't see where they can fit time in for exercise, hell most of them can't seem to find time to cook home cooked meals anymore, and just eat junk food.

    No wonder we're all in bad health....

  • MOD PARENT UP (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Abcd1234 ( 188840 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @04:47PM (#15070505) Homepage
    Seriously. I've never understood why people look at their jobs *as* their life, as opposed to simply a part of it. I make a point of leaving at 5, and never taking my work home with me unless it's absolutely necessary. Working 12 hours a day and leaving nothing for yourself is a miserable way to live, and it doesn't *have* to be that way.
  • by iamlucky13 ( 795185 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @04:49PM (#15070519)
    I'm sorry, why can't a person be both a geek and healthy? Just give up 30 minutes of WoW, 3 times a week, and go run/ride/lift/stretch/something. And cut down on the grilled stuffed burritos and mountain dew. You'll be glad to have done it the next time you have to lug your gaming rig with the dual video cards, 12 cooling fans, and a 20 pound power supply to a LAN party.

    For that matter, why can't a person be both an athlete and geeky? Think of plays as functions. Your selector class reads a variable passed by the QB/coach/point guard, then picks a function and executes the steps. Coaches spend enough time pounding plays into jocks heads, so someone might as well take pride in being good at learning them quickly and executing them properly. OOP. Object Oriented Playmaking. The only drawback is when endzone_dance() gets stuck in an endless do/while loop.

    I recognize some people have truly crappy jobs and spend 12 hours a day in front of a monitor, but I'd be more than willing to bet that the vast majority of geeks have time to spare for exercising and healthy cooking if they're willing to re-arrange their priorities a little.

    You're right though. I'm not seeing much of a story in this. Exercising and eating right makes you healthier. Doing brain work helps intellectual acuity.
  • Re:lol (Score:4, Insightful)

    by arivanov ( 12034 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @05:07PM (#15070711) Homepage
    Absobloodylutely. Seconded.

    To add to this.

    The bloated rolling non-sporty geek is an American phenomenon.

    In all my years of working in EU I have never had more than 2-3% of these in the company. In fact the IT industry in most EU countries is generally more healthy than the remaining population.

    I am one of the least sporty individuals in my company (which is a typical UK telecoms/IT shop) and I always walk for at least 20 minutes at lunch, cycle for 3 miles a day with a 4 year old on a tag-along whenever the weather allows (picking him up from the nursery is a perfect excuse for some exercise). On top of that I try to do at least 1 hour basketball or 1 hour swimming per week.

    That does not prevent me from doing design work, coding and a bit of sysadmin here and there.

    To summarize - geek lifestyle is whatever you make it. Being a rolling ball of fat does not make you a geek. Being a athelete does not exclude you from being a geek. At least outside US.

  • by Thaelon ( 250687 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @05:11PM (#15070760)
    My chest and shoulders are actively hurting right now because of the rigorous resistance training I did yesterday as I sit here looking at a monitor display and typing on an ergonomic keyboard while I pretend to be writing java code.

    I highly encourage you to get to the gym, make yourself go regularly. The health benefits are outstanding, and the girls definitely pay more attention. Most people will be impressed simply because you're a geek and a gym rat.

    I'm not trying to delude anyone. You're not going to turn into Arnold Schwarzenegger if you're a scrawny fucker like me, but if you seriously commit to it the difference will surprise you and maybe even get you laid. Besides, the chicks at the gym are often hot, and they don't wear those outfits anywhere else. ;-)
  • by rossifer ( 581396 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @05:13PM (#15070779) Journal
    Ah, balance. My favorite word (no, really).

    If I do one thing at a time it gets done faster, and with better results than if I try to multitask.

    This is quite true. Multiple studies have shown that every context switch takes you 15 to 60 minutes to return to full productivity (depending on the focus required for the task), with a complete loss of about 50% of that time.

    Most geeks who think they're great at multi-tasking should try focusing deeply on one problem some time. Their productivity would skyrocket.

    If I limit work to something like 9-5 (well, actually 10-4) I get more done, with better results.

    I prefer to limit any day to 10 hours and any week to 45 hours (in the office). Some people who've heard me advocate that think I'm a slacker, but I'm getting a lot more done than when I have pushed myself towards burnout and I always get more done than others in the office.

    The fact that management doesn't get this in most companies just reinforces my utter contempt for most of the MBA's and suits who I see acting quite superior and self-important...

  • by PCM2 ( 4486 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @05:30PM (#15070962) Homepage
    Yes, I consider myself a tech enthusiast and know my way around most things electronic (and mechanical) pretty well. I would not be posting here if I wasn't. But to make a blanket statement that people who are techies have poor health habits is absurd.
    And the funny thing is, for all the people here who seem to be up in arms about the article, nowhere does the author make that statement. All he says is that, in his practice, he sees recurrent themes of health problems that can be attributed to behaviors, behaviors which he thinks of as being part of "the geek lifestyle" based on his own personal experience.

    Said health problems can be summed up so:

    1. People who have poor sleep habits have trouble sleeping.
    2. Environmental issues in the office can cause headaches, as can undiagnosed eyesight problems.
    3. Poor attention to ergonomics can also cause back pain.
    4. A work environment that encourages "multitasking" and constant interruptions can lead to mental fatigue and difficulty concentrating.

    Nowhere does he say anything about couch potatoes, sedentary lifestyles, eating Cheez Doodles and drinking Mountain Dew, or any of the other things that people assume he's talking about because, as usual, they have not RTFA.

  • by PetoskeyGuy ( 648788 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @06:24PM (#15071437)
    If I were to go and try to run a few miles this weekend, I would not be able to easily do so. [...] However, if you take one of the these college basketball athletes, any of them would be able to run miles without even breathing heavy. However, if you made them sit down and try to learn Java for 12 hours a day, most of them would be asleep at their desk before lunch. The typical geek trains their brain to be heavily focused while multitasking day after day. Is it surprising that this same brain does not do well when forced to isolate down to one task?

    So if you were to tell your basic geek to Juggle with one hand, play sudoku on their cell phone with the other AND run a mile it would be no problem. Somehow I don't think concentration has anything to do with the heavy breathing...
  • Re:lol (Score:4, Insightful)

    by KanSer ( 558891 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @06:29PM (#15071464)
    [blockquote] Is it surprising?


    I mean come on everyone knows - if you don't excercise then you don't have strength and endurance.

    And the computer geek lifestyle leaves little time for excercising.

    The least surprising thing is the hilarious justification of, "We're just too darn smart to exercise'.

    Geek lifestyle leaves no time for exercise? There seems to be plenty of time for jacking off and playing video games. Just get off your ass.

    If you need to multi-task while you exercise because that's how your brain works, do a sport instead of just exercise. There are plenty of purely recreational leagues everywhere. (Often called beer leagues, which is just about the best part of it)

    I recommend baseball for the beginner geek because it is the least stressful as a sport and offers a nice transition. It is also chock full of numbers a geek can spend his day calculating, and believe me your team will appreciate even a novice statistician.

    For the intermediate geek I recommend Soccer or a racket sport(even ping pong!), but those don't offer any numbers to fuck around with.

    Hockey I recommend for the geek looking move up in sports difficulty, and hockey offers the most variables. Not to mention that Ice Hockey allows you to get a decent workout without sweating. (If you go crazy nuts you'll sweat plenty, but it's very easy to keep your heart rate in its optimal zone without getting too sweaty to go to work.)

    Hockey gear is expensive but you can find recreational games without more than leg pads.

    It'll also help the geek tendency to be a fucking social troll and retard.

    (beer league baseball/softball is by far the best way to go from zero exercise to building healthy habits. Working out is way more fun when you're drunk, just like most things.)
  • multitask?? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by burnunit0 ( 630935 ) <burnunit@waste.org> on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @06:30PM (#15071470) Homepage
    That's asinine. Athletes train their bodies, reflexes and "game brains" to multitask just as much as a geek. Java might be really hard to learn, but so is executing a double play; running the triangle offense; or reading coverages while deciding between the called timing route, checking down to the crossing route, or going to the outlet receiver while evading a pack of 6-foot-seven, 360 pound men in plastic armor who are freaking nimble. And some of these athletes do multiple sports. This author does a disservice to geeks (many of whom are athletic and fit) AND to jocks (many of whom are brilliant both in their sports and "conventional" measures of intelligence).
  • by shigelojoe ( 590080 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @07:30PM (#15071893)
    Your posture suffers when you're depressed; people who are feeling crappy tend to slouch while those who are feeling fine tend to keep their backs straightened. If someone is chronically depressed, their posture is bad enough for long enough that back muscles strain and the spine is thrown out of alignment.

    I wouldn't go so far as to suggest Zoloft or Prozac to people suffering from chronic back pain, but depression would be a valid factor to examine.
  • by mongus ( 131392 ) <aaron@mongus.com> on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @07:43PM (#15071969)
    I didn't see any claims to be a great athlete - just to be fit. There's no need to do 4 miles at a sub 6 pace to benefit from it. 10 miles isn't bad on a bike. If you're reasonably fit you should be able to do either in about half an hour. A day hike is much better for your health than an hour or two of sitting in front of the computer.

    In high school I was fairly fast and could do 4 miles at a sub 6 pace. I'm nowhere near that fast now but my endurance has seen significant increases. I ran a marathon in October. I never would have considered running that far in high school. I'm never going to win a marathon but I can compete with myself to keep improving.

    You don't have to be fast. Just get off your butt for half an hour a day!
  • by Excen ( 686416 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @11:27PM (#15073096) Homepage Journal
    I'm sorry, why can't a person be both a geek and healthy?

    It's the American God Complex at work. Americans need to feel like a God, and therefore they spend unhealthy amounts of time at that which they are good at and nothing else. The only way the stereotypical Comic. Book. Guy. can fulfil that god complex is to specialize in an esoteric pastime, detracting from physical as well as social health. The whole ancient greek concept of the Balanced Person is lost on the American society. We are reared to be automatons, mindlessly and endlessly consuming. Any notions of self-concept and individuality are quashed from age 5 on, and therefore are lost on the culture as a whole. There were more votes cast for American Idol than American President, if that's any indication of how fucked up we as a culture actually are.
  • by Unlikely_Hero ( 900172 ) on Thursday April 06, 2006 @03:56AM (#15074174)
    I entirely disagree.
    Although excercise does, obviously, keep you in better health, the problem for most geeks is that it is so tedious and boring. A lot of the discussion here has been on how to make excercise more enjoyable for the (if you'll pardon the pun) overclocked mind of your average geek.

    Some suggestions.
    1. Read a book while you excercise on a stationary machine.
    2. Listen to an mp3 player (preferably in conjunction with #1)
    3. Some people describe excercise as a "mental vacation". Some geeks (including myself) don't want a mental vacation, we =like= our brains churning at full speed thank you very much. So take this time to look at some problems you're dealing with in your job, personal projects, personal life etc and reevaluate them from the beginning. You'll be suprised how often this can help solve whatever problem you're facing.
    4. This may seem horribly fundamental, but make sure you're breathing deeply. If you don't breathe properly, you're just going to be in a lot of pain and the whole experience will be miserable.
    5. If all else fails, remember that in the end, your body is a machine and needs regular maintanence. Just like a neglected computer will fail, so will your body if it is not cared for.

Retirement means that when someone says "Have a nice day", you actually have a shot at it.