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Book Reviews

Submission + - Fitness for Geeks

jsuda writes: "You would think that geeks would be as interested in fitness as dogs are of TV. After all, geeks already put in hours of finger dancing on keyboards, assembling hefty code fragments, and juggling PHP programming functions.

        Although intended, in part, as a guide to real physical fitness the book, "Fitness for Geeks," entices geeks with what they are really interested in–the science of fitness, nutrition, and exercise. In 11 chapters over 311 pages (including notes and an index) author, Bruce W Perry, describes in great detail the science of fitness and all of its components–food selections, timings, and fastings; exercising of all types; sleep, rest, and meditation; the benefits of hormesis (shocking the body with stresses); and the benefits of natural sunlight.

        One of the major themes is respect for ancestral behaviors relating to fitness, as he sees the human body as having built-in “software” (biological and physiological “pathways”) regulating its needs for certain foods and nutrients, its affinities for sprinting and intermittent fasting, and a preference for sunlight. These behaviors were evolutionary-based adaptations to their environment which in some ways was much more physically stressful than ours is now.

        He argues that modern humans have gotten way too far away from their ancestral roots at the expense of their health and fitness. They would be better served by committing to behaviors which are modeled after those of our distant predecessors. That means large doses of natural sunlight, exercise programs emphasizing high demand tasks like sprinting, food selections high in quality fats and proteins and low in processed foods and sugars, and intermittent fastings.

        In other words, channel your inner caveman.

        He supports his thesis with reference to hundreds of scientific studies. However, he doesn't sufficiently explain why modern human lifespans are so much longer than that of the ancients despite diets high in Twinkies, exercise defined as walking down the hall to the Coke machine, and light exposure limited to LCD illumination.

        While the major interest of the book for geeks is in the science, Mr. Perry is also advocating real improvement in personal health and fitness. The author is a software engineer and computer-topic writer and also a serious runner, biker, and outdoor enthusiast. He seems to be a very intense proponent of maximum personal fitness both as an instructor and personally where he tracks and measures nearly every physical thing he does during the day. He monitors and measures macro nutritional ratios (carbohydrates, fats, proteins); micro nutritional consumption levels (vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals); exercise metrics like energy use (Metabolic Equivalents of Tasks--MET's); the times, rhythms, and patterns of exercise program elements; and more.

        Like a serious geek, he uses all the latest and greatest hardware and software tools to monitor and measure including GPS devices, motion detectors, smart phone apps of all kinds, and web-based trackers and analyzers. He describes many of the features of apps like FitBit, Endomondo, Fitocracy, and Garmin Connect, including screenshots of configurations, data charts, result pages, and comparison charts. He highlights use of web-based databases especially the nutritional information available at the USDA National Nutrient Database.

        Mr. Perry also throws in a bit of food and food marketing politics as he emphasizes buying from local food suppliers, or even better, growing your own food and hunting your evening's meal. He shuns supermarket products, for the most part, even providing strategies on how best to navigate the typical mega markets to avoid being psychologically and emotionally manipulated by marketing techniques which attempt to get the consumer to buy more than they need, pricier items, and the latest junk foods they happen to be promoting that week.

        Mr. Perry is one serious guy!

        I don't think that he is a typical health-concerned person or even a typical geek, although he is an independent spirit with great curiosity about things he's interested in. He seems to be serious about fitness to an idiosyncratic degree. In addition to all of the monitoring and measuring, he experiments with up to four different fasting strategies, goes for cold water swims, and does a variety of push-ups while waiting for boarding at the airport.

        His book, I think, would appeal primarily to serious health freaks or competitive athletes who have the time and need to micromanage their eating, sleeping, and physical activities, and later analyzing all of the accumulated data.

        The author writes knowledgeably and comprehensively about his topics and provides a lot of detail, especially on the tracking and measuring apps. He includes a handful of sidebar interviews with nutritional and fitness experts, some photos and graphics, and tosses in a few code references like anti-patterns and the random function, among others. What isn't in the book is referenced to websites containing more specific information, data, and videos.

        Although he sprinkles some personal anecdotes and humor into the writing, overall, the book, while well organized, is a slow, often mind jumbling read. There is almost too much information, too many options to try out for some activities, and not enough focus. It will not win any literary awards. To some readers, it may be sort of like reading lab reports.

        A lot of geeks like reading lab reports and there is a sufficient number of competitive athletes and health fanatics who'll find this book quite valuable and interesting."
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Fitness for Geeks

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