The Official Code Monkey Guide to Healthier, Happier Programmers

Let’s face it. Programmers are not gym rats. Sure, there may be one or two among the herd but by and large our brood is comprised of chair rocking, hydraulic desk loving, don’t touch whatever is in our coffee mug, heads down coders. You will find us in a lot of places but the gym is generally not one of them. It’s not that programmers don’t want to be healthy. It’s more, what most people do for health simply does not fit into the lifestyle of a programmer.

Thankfully, the science continues to prove that going the gym does not offer programmers and other more sedentary professionals any significant health benefit. Of course, this is not a free pass or excuse for living pain riddled, fatigued, hypertensive, diabetic, heart attack waiting to happen life. Instead, it should be seen as an invitation to integrate health elements into a daily routine that fit into an existing lifestyle.

Live tested for 3 years before release, the Code Monkey Health Guide was developed by a Certified Health Coach, Personal Trainer and Weight Management Specialist specifically for programmers.

Our Code Monkey Health Guide is an open source project. We offer additional tools to enhance the basic guide but the core is and always will be free and open to the community. You can download the guide as a pdf, find the core concepts on github, or read them below.

Should you prefer to enjoy the additional tools you can subscribe to Code Monkey Health for $5 a month. We regularly post subscriber exclusive videos, tips and recipes as well as host the monthly “Ask Mrs. Code Monkey” call where we answer your health and wellness questions.

Before we dive into the actual guide, let’s take a moment to look at two tools which will make the guide run smoother.


WakeandFlush

Your first step to a healthy, happy day

Goal:

Drink 16 to 24 ounces of fresh filtered water immediately upon waking. Do this – literally – before your feet hit the floor. If you forget, don’t beat yourself up but do stop and chug some down.

Best practices:

Place appropriate sized container of water next to bed the night before.

Beginners:

If 16 to 24 ounces is too difficult begin by taking a large drink of water from the container. This should result in a 1 to 2 ounce intake. Gradually work your way up to 16 to 24. Even if you are beginning with less water, you should develop the habit with a container that will accommodate the full 16 to 24 ounces. You will be amazed at how much easier it is to work up to the full amount if you consistently have the full amount available.

WakeandFlush and FirstFuel are two basics that will make Scheduler, WorkDay, and Hydrator run better.


FirstFuel

Your morning* jump and go

*You’re a programmer, so we know that “morning” is whenever you roll out of bed and stumble to your computer ;)

Goal:

Eat 300 calories total of lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber and healthy fats within 25 minutes of waking.

Best practices:

Use 100% plant based sources for this fuel up. 30% of calories from complex carbohydrates, 40% from plant based protein, 30% from plant based, healthy fats. Using this standard will ensure you include the necessary dietary fiber without overdosing on fast and loose proteins, unhealthy fats, and pancreas crashing carbs which cause inflammation, pain and brain fog.

Beginners:

Use ready to eat vegan bars or vegan protein mixes while developing the habit. Progress to homemade bars, whole food smoothies or quinoa breakfast wraps as your habit develops.

WakeandFlush and FirstFuel are two basics that will make Scheduler, WorkDay, and Hydrator run better.


Now, let’s dive into the actual Code Monkey Health Guide

Scheduler

It’s a CronTab for your health routine

Ensures the Code Monkey Guide to Health elements and packages are are executed in a timely and efficient manner.

Goal:

Integrate daily lifestyle, exercise, attitude and nutrition elements into the life of a programmer. Once fully integrated elements will be as natural as breathing.

Best Practices:

Take 30 to 120 seconds every 30 to 60 minutes to complete a health element.

Beginners:

Use a calendar or task reminder to alert you of specific health habit tasks. Obtain more support by hiring a freelance health coach/trainer with experience supporting programmers.

Here’s a common implementation chart for a 10 hour day.


WorkDay

Five simple steps to health and happiness

Goal:

Incorporate healthy elements that become a natural part of a programmers lifestyle.

There are five basic steps to implementing the Code Monkey Health Guide:

  • Decide on the wellness element to complete
  • Set your timer for 60 minutes (if you have acute condition or are highly motivated set for 25)
  • When the timer goes off take 30 to 120 seconds to complete the wellness element
  • Reset timer and repeat
  • Every second 60 minute session (or fourth 25 minute session) take a 15 – 30 minute wellness break. This is the perfect time to eat a full meal and do something you enjoy. Just be sure to take the 30 to 120 seconds upfront for your wellness habit.

Best practices:

Consume plant based fat* every 3 to 4 hours, complete a full body movement every 3 to 4 hours, stretch and engage your “sitting muscles” every 3 to 4 hours, stretch and engage your hands and arms every 3 to 4 hours, stretch and engage neck every 3 to 4 hours, stretch and engage shoulders every 3 to 4 hour, complete a partial or complete body movement every hour, elevate your heart rate every 2 to 3 hours.

Following this standard will reduce pain, stiffness and fatigue; help improve energy, lower stress and anxiety, maintain healthy blood pressure and weight, elevate your mood, and keeps the heart healthy. Further, regular exercise stimulates the memory function region of the brain to release a chemical (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) which rewires your memory circuits making them work better.

*We are not advocating a vegan or vegetarian diet. We will clarify the reasoning later.

Beginners:

Begin by running a Plant Based Fat every 3 to 4 hours. After successful integration add Full Body Movement every 3 to 4 hours. Then continue adding elements as you prefer until all are fully integrated. If unable to integrate one or more elements within 14 days, consider working with a freelance health coach/trainer with experience supporting programmers.

Work Day Includes

  1. Plant Based Fat – runs every 3 to 4 hours
  2. Full Body Movement – runs every 3 to 4 hours
  3. Hip n Knee – runs every 3 to 4 hours
  4. Fluid HEW (Hands, Elbows & Wrists) – runs every 3 to 4 hours
  5. Neck Support – runs every 3 to 4 hours
  6. Shoulder Swagger – runs every 3 to 4 hours
  7. Back Guard – runs every 3 to 4 hours
  8. Heart Rate Optimizer – runs every 2 to 3 hours

Plant Based Fat

Your brain is fat driven. The most efficient and effective fats are plant based. Because your brain does not have a fat storage tank (repository) you must enter new fat every 3 to 4 hours to maintain optimal function.

Substituting animal based fats inhibits the ability of your cells to send, receive and/or translate communications from your brain. These communications are how your cells determine when & how to behave. Communication failure or obstruction leads to degradation resulting in sickness, pain and disease.

We are not saying to be healthy you have to be vegan or vegetarian. It’s just that for this particular health habit you want to go with plant based fats.

You can easily provide a plant based fat by keeping a jar of nuts and seeds on or near your desk. When it’s time for new fat input simply portion out a palm-ful for a snack.

Your palm is the perfect measurement for a snack. Interestingly, your fist is the perfect size for a meal.

We suggest including brazil nuts, walnuts, cashews, pecans, almonds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, freeze dried celery, freeze dried peas, among your other favorites. We know that not all of these are nuts and seeds but the freeze dried vegetables contribute to brain function and help increase nutritional endurance.

White Chia Seeds are preferred for workplace use as they are extremely gelatinous and can sometimes end up stuck on your teeth. The white seeds become mostly transparent but the black ones do not. Nothing a good swishing of water can’t resolve but you can imagine how interesting the black ones would come across clinging to your front teeth.

By the way, peanuts are not nuts. Eat them if you like them; but they should not be relied upon as supporting this element.


Full Body Movement

Every 3 to 4 hours

A 2012 meta-analysis of 18 different studies found individuals who spent a lot of time sitting were significantly more likely to have have diabetes or heart disease compared to those who sat for less time. By significantly, we mean twice as likely.

Making a full body movement takes about 90 seconds. This brief amount of time is sufficient to increase blood flow, help alleviate lower back pain, reduce stress, improve sleep and help reduce other discomforts associated with extended periods of sitting.

A good routine will begin with you standing and working muscle groups from your neck to your feet and back to your neck (if time permits) and take no more than 3 minutes. The routine should be fluid, almost like a slow dance.

Before you begin your routine you may want to take a moment to shake loose. This is done by standing with your feet about hip width apart and shifting your weight between your left and right side. First at only your feet, then add your legs, hips, back and arms. Do not intentionally shake your head or neck.

A complete, illustrated Full Body Movement routine can be downloaded here.


Hip n Knee

Unless you are one of the rare programmers using the blended solution of active sitting, standing desk, walking workstation, a Aeron Chair by Herman Miller along with a zero gravity massage chair your back, legs, knees and even your bottom are probably fatigued and sore. In fact, if you were to poke around where your hips and buttocks meet up on your side you’d probably call out a few non FTC compliant words.

Taking a Hips and Knees break every 3 to 4 hours can help alleviate the fatigue and soreness associated with the abuse our body takes from being seated for extended periods of time.

For those wondering: An “extended period of time” as it relates to sitting it can refer to as little as 20 minutes to over an hour.

You may recall from our Scheduler best practices that taking a health element break every 30 to 60 minutes is our target goal time.

A good routine will begin with you seated – yes really. Cross your legs at the ankles with your left leg on bottom. Gently push your left leg back with your other leg until a stretch is felt. Hold for a few seconds. Relax. Recross bent legs at ankles. Slowly straighten legs, pushing with lower leg. Hold for a few seconds. Repeat with right leg.

Now, stand up. Using your desk to steady yourself, pull your right heel toward buttock until stretch is felt in front of thigh. Be sure to keep your hips aligned with your knees and your knees aligned with your ankles. If you lean forward you are doing it wrong. Hold for a few seconds and repeat with your other heel.

If you have access to wall space at your office, you can lean on the wall, slowly lower buttocks until thighs are parallel to floor. Hold for 3 to 20 seconds. Tighten thigh muscles and return to standing.

Next, Keeping your feet flat on floor, shoulder width apart, squat as low as is comfortable. Use the back of your chair or top of desk for support as necessary. Yes, this is strikingly similar to the wall slide but uses your body differently.

Modify this movement into a deep knee squat when you can. Here’s how: Stand with feet shoulder width apart and squat deeply, head and chest up. No chair, desk or wall support. Arms stretched straight out in front, palms down.

Here’s a full Hip & Knees routine complete with illustrations.


Fluid HEW

(Hands, Elbows & Wrists)

Many programmers suffer from Cubital Tunnel Syndrome (CTS), although most pass it off as muscle pain or just something weird that happens from time to time. CTS is a repetitive stress injury that typically impacts the elbow, ring & little fingers. It can cause pain, weakness and numbness, and if left untreated could end the career of programmer due to extreme pain, surgery or even total loss of the affected hand(s).

The ulnar nerve is the primary culprit behind CTS. The ulnar nerve begins way up on the side of your neck, runs through your shoulder and around your elbow ending in your hand.

Bending your elbow stretches the ulnar nerve. Rotating your palms down, raising and lowing your fingers stretches the ulnar nerve. All this stretching leads to inflammation which turns into pain and tissue degradation.

If you think you have CTS you should really see a doctor specializing in CTS sooner than later. You can try wrapping your arm in a towel at night while you sleep for symptomatic relief.

A good routine for improving hand & arm health for programmers begins by turning your palms up and letting your hands rest in your lap or at your sides as often as you can. It fits well into those moments when you find yourself pondering and not hammering away at code.

An actual complete hands, elbow and wrists routine would be to actively bend your right thumb across your palm as far as possible. Hold for 3 to 15 seconds. Relax. Then pull thumb back into good job, thumbs up hitchhiker position. Repeat this with your other hand.

Next, actively touch your right thumb to each fingertip of your right hand. Start with index finger and proceed toward little finger. Move slowly at first, then more rapidly as motion and coordination improve. Be sure to touch each fingertip. Repeat this about 3 times and the switch to your other hand.

Then grasp your right hand and slowly your bend wrist until stretch is felt. Relax. Then stretch as far as possible in opposite direction. Be sure to keep your elbow bent. Repeat with other hand.

Follow that by extending your left arm (keeping your elbow straight) and grasping your left hand, then slowly bend your left wrist back until stretch is felt. Hold for a few seconds. Relax and the repeat with your other arm/hand.

Now, you’ll go the other way. with your left arm extended (keeping your elbow straight) grasp your left hand and slowly bend wrist forward until stretch is felt. Hold for a few seconds. Relax and repeat with your other arm/hand.

If you are at your desk when doing these you can rest your left elbow on your desk, grasp your left arm at the wrist and gently bend elbow as far as possible towards your shoulder. Hold for 3 to 15 seconds. Then straighten arm as far as possible. Hold for 3 to 15 seconds. Relax and repeat with other elbow/arm.

These next two work sitting, standing or even walking. Bring your right arm over head and bend elbow as far as possible. Grasp your wrist with other hand and gently stretch further. Hold for 3 to 20 seconds. Relax and repeat with your other arm.

Bend your left elbow as far as possible. With other hand, try to bend it further. Hold up to 30 seconds. Relax and repeat with your other arm.

Here’s a full Hands, Elbows and Wrists routine complete with illustrations.


Neck Support

Begin by facing forward, then turn head slowly to look over one shoulder, then turn back to face forward and turn your head slowly to look over your other shoulder. Do not turn past your point of comfort. Hold each over the shoulder look for 3 to 20 seconds.

Slowly tilt your head toward one shoulder as if you were going to rest your ear on your shoulder, then return to facing forward and repeat for other side. Hold side tilts for 3 to 20 seconds.

Bend head forward as if you were going to rest your chin on your sternum. Hold for 1 to 15 seconds. Return to facing forward and then bend your head backward. Hold for 1 to 15 seconds. Return to facing forward. Now, using light pressure from your fingertips at forehead, resist bending head forward. Hold/resist for 3 to 20 seconds. Switch to using light pressure from fingertips at back of head, resist bending head backward. Hold/resist for 3 to 20 seconds.

When you first do these you may hear some crackling. Most programmers have a very tight and crunchy occipitofrontalis muscle (among others). This should decrease with regular movement. If it does not decrease you may be developing arthritis in that area (goes for all areas of the body by the way). In which case you would want to consider some more specific exercise and diet modifications as well as consulting with a physician.

If you are not sure what light pressure feels like rest a nickle on the inside of your wrist. Then rest a quarter in the same spot. Light pressure ranges from nickle to quarter.

If you have frequent headaches or sharp pains this next set of movements may become your favorite.

Gently grasp the right side of your head while reaching behind back with your other hand. Tilt head away (or towards the elbow of the hand on your head) until a gentle stretch is felt. Hold for 3 to 15 seconds. Repeat with your other side. You can do these without placing the opposite hand behind your back but you will not derive full benefit. It will help, just not as much.

Next, grasp your left arm above your wrist and pull it down across your body (to your right side) while gently tilting head in the same direction as you pull. Hold for 3 to 15 seconds. Repeat with your other side.

Place left hand on your left side shoulder blade. With your right hand, gently stretch head down and away towards your right. Hold for 3 to 15 seconds. Repeat with your other side.

Remember all the neck movements can be completed while sitting, standing or walking. You should see Mr. Code Monkey making his way to the kitchen for more coffee.

Get your complete Neck Support routine here.


Shoulder Swagger

A good routine is to rest your left arm on your desk/table, slide body away until stretch is felt. You will be looking at the floor. Hold for 3 to 15 seconds. Repeat with other arm.

Then, modify this to rest your left arm on your desk (a table works too) with your palm up. Bring your head down towards your arm and simultaneously move your trunk away from table. This way you will be looking forward rather than at the floor. Hold for 3 to 15 seconds. Repeat with other arm.

Next, rest your left arm on your desk (a table works too) with your palm down. Bend forward at your waist until a stretch if felt. Hold for 3 to 15 seconds. Relax and repeat with other arm.

You can do your entire left side and the switch to your right side if you prefer. Also, a wheeled chair works best for this.

If you have access to an armless, wheel free chair you can hold the side edge of your chair firmly with your right hand. Lean your trunk towards opposite side. Hold for 3 to 20 seconds. Repeat with other hand. This can really open up your shoulders and send a boost of energizing oxygen into the muscle tissue.

Shift to a standing position with your arms at your sides, pinch your shoulder blades together. Hold or 3 to 20 seconds. Then bring your arms up so your elbows are bent to a 90°, pinch your shoulder blades together again and rotate your arms out, keeping elbows bent. Hold for 3 to 20 seconds repeating as loudly as you can:

All your base are belong to us

Okay, so you don’t really have to say “All your base are belong to us” but it could be fun to see the responses around the office.

Relax and remain standing, then place your right hand under your left elbow (arm bent) and gently lift your left elbow up and across your front so your left hand is above/beyond your right shoulder (if you can stretch that far). Hold for 3 to 10 seconds. Relax and repeat with your right elbow.

Now, with your elbow raised (up like you are reaching behind your head), gently use your opposite hand to pull until a stretch is felt in your shoulder. Hold for 3 to 10 seconds. Repeat with opposite side.

If you have access to a doorway or one of the walls that seems to end in the middle of a room for no apparent reason you can also work in some awesome shoulder rotation and flexion that can (oddly enough) help with eye fatigue/strain.

With your elbow bent at 90° place the palm of your left hand against the door frame (or edge of wall). Turn body away from your hand on the frame/wall until a stretch is felt. Hold for 3 to 5 seconds. Repeat on other side. Now, slide your right arm up the wall (with your palm facing out) and lean toward the wall/doorway. Repeat with other side.

Here’s a full Shoulder Swagger routine.


Back Guard

Whether you call it hacker back or programmers back more than likely you’ve experience the sudden sharp pain which can bring even the most elite to their knees in a matter of seconds. Thankfully a Back Guard routine can eliminate this chronic misfire.

A good workplace routines begins seated at in your chair with your feet flat on the floor and knees spread apart. Bend forward to floor. A comfortable stretch should be felt in lower back. Hold for 3 to 15 seconds. Sit back up on the front edge of your chair, place your right leg back under chair, bend slightly forward at hip and slowly lower to half-kneeling position. Keep your stomach tight. Repeat with other leg.

To help keep your stomach tight, imagine someone is standing behind you and pulling a string which is attached to your belly button that runs through your body and out your back. When they pull the string your belly button is drawn up and in towards your spine tightening your abdomen.

You can use this same concept ANY TIME during the day to help INCREASE your metabolism, caloric burn and to help REDUCE back strain and cortisol levels.

Now, stand up with your knees slightly bent, tighten your stomach and flatten your back by rolling your pelvis down. Hold for 2 to 15 seconds and relax. Place your left foot on your chair (be sure it is locked and won’t roll away), bend forward from your waist. Hold for 3 to 15 seconds. Relax and repeat with your other leg.

Take your foot off your chair and stand with your knees bent and upper body leaning forward, (your low back should feel like it is relaxed or neutral), rotate your pelvis up and arch back. Hold for 3 to 15 seconds and relax. Then you will do this rotation in reverse. So with your knees and upper body bent forward (remember your low back should feel relaxed and neutral), tighten your stomach and flatten your back by rolling your pelvis down. Hold for 3 to 15 seconds and relax.

Follow these with side and front lunges. Stand with your knees slightly bent, feet flat on the floor and stomach tight. Take a side step with your right leg, without moving your other leg. Hold for 3 to 15 seconds. Then return to standing position and repeat with other leg. With your feet shoulder width apart, feet flat on the floor and stomach tight, this time step forward with your left leg. Your hips may shift forward but they should not “drop” down. That is a different exercise for a different part of your body. Hold for 1 to 10 seconds. Return to starting position and repeat with other leg.

Get your complete Back Guard routine here.


Heart Rate Optimizer

Research has shown brisk walking can stop and even reverse brain shrinkage (aka atrophy). Brain atrophy begins in your forties and seems to have the greatest impact on regions responsible for memory and higher cognition. The good news is that aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking (aka heart pumping exercise) increases both gray matter and white matter. Gray matter are your actual neurons. White matter are the connections between neurons.

Since none of us really want to be hot and sweaty especially during our work routine the Heart Rate Optimization is the perfect solution. Begin by standing up. Clear a minimum of a 3 foot radius of your body. Now, shift your weight from left to right without letting your feet leave the floor. Do this a quickly as you can for 5 to 15 seconds. Your body will wiggle ridiculously. But you should boost your heart rate pretty quickly.

When you are able to complete a full 15 seconds of weight shifting without feeling winded then add a 5 to 30 second round of fast walking in place. The goal is to walk at a moderate intensity which would translate to 50 steps per 30 seconds or about 1.667 steps per second.

Once you can do a full 15 seconds of weight shifting followed by 30 seconds of fast walking in place you can add fast high stepping.

For this, you will actually use the good old fashioned cartoon inspired running in place now known as Fast High Stepping.

We suggest you invest in a pedometer for best results.

From a standing position (with a pedometer on your left foot), set your timer for 35 to 65 seconds. The extra 5 seconds are there to let you get into position. Then stand tall with your feet hip width apart. Bend your arms to just less than 90° and raise your right knee up high enough to touch your right hand, place it back down and repeat with your left. Continue doing this while increasing your pace.

As you become more efficient, you can gradually increase your elbow angle to 130°. Also, remember if you suffer with CTS symptoms turn your palms up.

Count how many times your right knee touches your right hand and how many steps you take with your dominate leg.

Our Fast High Stepping routine includes light impact for your hands to help improve bone density. While not directly linked to arthritis, individuals with lower bone density in and around arthritic joints experience more pain and a greater loss of mobility than those with greater bone density. Individuals who perform repetitive tasks with their hands are more likely to develop arthritis in hand and finger joints. We figure why not do something to mitigate this.

If you keep track and post your totals on the Code Monkey Health Heart Rate Tracking page you could receive a healthy gift. We randomly choose a participant every 6 weeks and send them a treat. You will have to register with the site to participate. Registration is free.


Hydrator

Cause you need to drink (water!)

Develops the habit of drinking small amounts of water throughout your daily routine.

Goal:

Drink ½ to 1 full ounce of water per pound of bodyweight every day. Bodyweight ÷ 2 = minimal number of ounces of water your body needs to remain upright and breathing every day.

This equation does not take into consideration other needs of your body such as off-setting coffee, tea, soda or alcohol intake.

Best practices:

Fill a suitable container with fresh filtered or tap water and keep it with you throughout your day.

Beginners:

If you currently do not drink this amount of water begin by adding 8 ounces of water to your daily routine. Increase by 8 ounces every 2 to 4 days.

Why You Need Hydrator

The World Health Organization reports ischaemic heart disease, stroke, lower respiratory infections and chronic obstructive lung disease as the leading cause of death globally.

Researches have concluded that ALL of these diseases are significantly impacted by hydration, or more accurately the lack thereof.

In other words, the state of chronic, mild dehydration contributes to or possibly causes 3 of the 4 leading causes of death – globally.

The three we know for sure proper hydration helps:

  1. The study results from “Water, Other Fluids, and Fatal Coronary Heart Disease” published in the American Journal of Epidemiology (Vol. 155, No.9) reveal that drinking high amounts of plain water is as important as exercise, diet, or not smoking in preventing coronary heart disease.
  2. The Journal of the Neurological Sciences study “The influence of fluid intake on stroke recurrence–a prospective study” concluded: data suggests that a fluid intake of more than 2000 ml per day might be a protective factor in secondary stroke prevention.
  3. The Cleveland Clinic nutritional guidelines for COPD patients includes a minimum of 6 to 8 eight-ounce glasses of non-caffeinated beverages daily.

So why does water matter so much?

Water has 2 primal functions in the human body: carry nutrients into and drive toxins/toxics out of cells.

The way these two functions impact the body is fascinating. Speaking, healing, sleeping, breathing, even basic movement is contingent upon having the right type and amount of water available.

A steady influx of water is best for hydration purposes. A fast flooding of water is best for flushing purposes. This is why WakeandFlush utilizes 16 to 24 ounces of water upon waking. But hydration requires a softer touch. You want to water your body the same gentle way you would a garden, not pressure wash it like your deck or driveway.

Ideally, water would be your beverage of choice. Realistically, that is not going to happen. I have a cup of coffee (with real cream and real sugar) along with a half consumed cola sitting on my desk as I type this. AND I AM A HEALTH COACH AND TRAINER!!!

However, I have also dripped a gallon of fresh filtered water into my lovely self since I’ve been awake today – not including my WakeandFlush intake.

 

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