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April 26 2012

Fitness for geeks

Programmers who spend 14 hours a day in front of a computer terminal writing code know how hard it is to step out of the cubicle and learn how to live a more healthy lifestyle. But getting fit doesn't need to be so daunting, and a growing number of technophiles are finding ways to make the process more appealing and relevant to their interest in data, design, and discovery. The increasing popularity of projects such as Quantified Self, smartphone apps, and gadgets dedicated to monitoring your body, generating metrics and routines for your exercise regime, and tracking your progress has created a community of like-minded geeks to share in your struggle, and even make it fun.

I recently talked with Bruce Perry, author of the just-released Fitness for Geeks, about some of the tools this crowd is using, some others they might be missing, and how the rest of us can use these tips to get healthy too. Highlights from our conversation include:

  • Debug your wetware. A programmer becomes fitter by becoming more knowledgeable about her internal software and learning how to optimize it for maximum performance and efficiency. [Discussed at the 00:21 mark]
  • Get some sleep. This one's pretty obvious, but now there are many new ways to quantify and analyze your sleep. Zeo Sleep Manager monitors your brainwaves during sleep and displays graphs for your review when you wake up, communicating wirelessly to a software-enabled clock and the web, Use your personal dashboard to identify your sleep cycles, analyze your REM, and measure the effects of different daily events (such as a stressful day or a drink before bed) on sleep. [Discussed at the 1:54 mark]
  • Use apps to assist your workouts and quantify your health. Tools such as FitBit, Nike+, Garmin Connect, AlpineReplay, and RestWise connect you and your health to the digital world where so much of the rest of your life is lived. [Discussed at the 3:46 mark]
  • Just get outside. You don't need a sophisticated routine, as long as you're moving. Doing the same thing over and over tends to create a static effect that plateaus. But you can randomize your workouts to make them more interesting. Tools such as GAIN Fitness and CrossFit's Workout of the Day (WOD) Generator will use algorithms to generate your own daily protocol. [Discussed at the 4:53 mark]
  • Fast. Intermittent fasting has been shown to lower blood pressure, normalize insulin and glucose levels, and even provide more efficient workouts while fasting. The basic guidelines for intermittent fasting is to eat only within an 8-hour window (eat dinner, don't eat at night, skip breakfast) and go the remaining16 hours on just water, coffee, and tea. [Discussed at the 7:26 mark]
  • Resist extremes. Bruce says it's okay to do a marathon or similarly challenging event for the experience, but that the oxidative stress can have a significantly negative effect on your overall and long-term health. Instead, revolve your exercise program around short-duration, high-intensity training, such as sprinting, followed by 30-40 minutes of high-intensity weights. [Discussed at the 09:09 mark]
  • Practice good stress. Various forms of acute stresses (known as hormesis) — such as moderate and high-intensity exercise, hot and cold exposure, one drink at night — can improve your health. [Discussed at the 13:02 mark]
  • Personal experiences with fitness apps. Bruce talks about using Endomondo, GPS data, and Google Earth to scout out an off-piste ski area, and I mention my own use of Google's MyTracks Android app for marathon training. [Discussed at the 15:19 mark]

The full interview is available in the following video:

Fitness for Geeks — This guide will help you experiment with one crucial system you usually ignore — your body and its health. Long hours focusing on code or circuits tends to stifle notions of nutrition, but with this book you can approach fitness through science.

November 19 2010

Complete real-time sleep feedback loop: Zeo device provides raw data

In a radical application of modern health philosophies--feedback
loops, patient empowerment, open data--the
Zeo company
has recently added a new feature to their consumer-priced sleep device
that puts out sleep phase and brain wave data every 30 seconds,
allowing a program to collect the data and act on it to alter your
sleep experience.
One hacker wrote about his program to

wake him during light sleep

in the hope of producing more RPM sleep.
Zeo CTO Ben Rubin told me that other promising applications provide
the sleeper with some audio or tactile stimulus in particular sleep
phases to help the sleeper enter another phase.

The Zeo is a small box priced at $199, which thousands of people have
been using to collect data on their sleep. At the back of the device
is a serial port that was unused up until recently, but that now
outputs the raw data that the Zeo has been using to calculate, store,
and display sleep patterns. Zeo also provides an API that stores and
manipulates data in simple, standard formats such as JSON, and that
lets people derive useful information without even uploading the data
to the web site. But the web site has its value too: the data that
individuals upload each night not only helps them figure out what
might be impeding their rest, but has become a major source of useful
information for sleep researchers.

Rubin recognizes that the Zeo company can't create all the useful
applications people would like to use with their device. Between the
raw data feed and the APIs, he expects to see hackers as well as
professional developers jump into the breach. "In the new wave of
personal biometric devices," Rubin says, "Zeo is the first to really
open up the data and the platform."

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