7 ways to be a healthy programmer

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August 23, 2023
Mindset & Growth

In spite of all its positive aspects, programming can be one of the most damaging things for your health. Today's world presents physical and mental health challenges to developers.

The programming profession can be pretty risky if you suffer from wrist and back pain, migraines, eye strain, loss of motivation, and trouble focusing.

You may not have encountered one yet but it is almost certain you will one day. Fortunately, there are lots of simple techniques and hacks that can help here.

Keeping your body and mind in good shape is easy when you follow these seven tips.

1. Reduce blue light exposure with f.lux

blue

A third of the visible light spectrum consists of blue light also called high-energy visible (HEV) light.

As a whole, blue light is not bad since the sun is the main source of HEV light and the sky is blue because of HEV light.

In addition, blue light is known to boost alertness, memory, cognition, and mood (it is also used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder).

It is not all bad but staring at our screens all day exposes us to an unhealthy amount of blue light. What's worse, our eyes have a difficult time blocking it out!

Light scattered from HEV displays reduces contrast and causes digital eye strain.

We can suffer gradual (but permanent) loss of vision due to this process which damages our retinas and causes changes similar to macular degeneration.

Blue light may very well be the culprit if you need a new prescription every year.

However, f.lux is here to save the day! By automatically adjusting the color temperature of your computer screen (based on the time of day) f.lux is originally intended to help people sleep better.

Your color temperature and filtered light amount can be tailored using the configuration (you can also adjust these manually at any time).

You can disable f.lux for an hour or even until sunrise if you're a designer or doing color-sensitive work!

f.lux is available for free on all major desktop and mobile operating systems (except Apple mobile devices, which recently introduced a similar feature called Night Shift).

2. Set up your monitors properly

set-up

Preventing Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) starts with your monitor setup. Symptoms of CVS may include:

  • Eyestrain    
  • Irritated eyes
  • Dry eyes
  • Red eyes
  • Neck pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Polyopia
  • Hard to refocus eyes
  • Vertigo
  • Double vision

Fortunately, you can protect yourself from some of the damage with some preemptive mitigation!

First, if you're wearing glasses you'll have a harder time concentrating if you don't have the right prescription lenses.

Muscle fatigue will lead to headaches and deterioration of your vision.

Second, place your monitor between 20 and 40 inches away from you. This is about arm's length away.

You're too close to your monitor if you can give it a high five. You are too far away if you are unable to touch it.

Three, adjust your monitor's brightness based on the ambient lighting in the room. Checking a website with a white background is a great way to test its brightness.

You probably have too much brightness on your screen if it looks like a light source. It's probably too dark if it looks dull and gray.

Squinting and straining your eyes will result from a large disparity between your monitor and the room.

It may still be necessary to make slight manual adjustments for f.lux, if you use it as I suggested earlier. Good news! F.lux is on your side!

Fourth, make sure there is no excessive glare. A simple way to test this is to sit facing a window and see if the window reflects on your screen with your back to the window.

Getting a screen filter may be a good idea if there's too much glare on the screen. Wearing glasses with anti-glare coating is also a great option.

Reflections on the front and back of your glasses are blocked by anti-glare coating.

3. Follow the 20/20/20 rule to protect your eyes

eye

Exercise for your eyes is just as important as taking short walks! The "20/20/20 rule" can help you avoid focus fatigue and eye lockup (also known as accommodative spasm or "programmer's stare").

Look at something at least 20 feet away every 20 minutes for 20 seconds. The distance and duration can be increased even more. Take a minute to look away, or even longer!

You can also increase the level of protection by using the "10-15" variation. Observe something up close for 10–15 seconds every 20 minutes, followed by something far away for 10–15 seconds.

Continue this practice 10 times!

Last but not least, remember to blink to avoid dry eyes!

4. Go for a walk

walking

We are all starting to realize that sitting is the new smoking. Many of us have sat at our workstations for hours on end.

It's causing your back pain, straining your eyes, draining your energy, and may even be the reason you have a migraine.

Take a walk instead! An interesting study showed that walking for 40 minutes a few times a week for a year actually grew the hippocampus.

In your brain, the hippocampus helps create new memories. Mood and the autonomic nervous system are also regulated by it.

Additionally, walking for 20 minutes burns an average of 70-140 calories. As a bonus, walking can also help prevent back pain.

[40 min ✖️ 3 times a week = brain growth + better health]

Though it may seem overwhelming to you at first, 40 minutes can be broken down over the course of the day like this:

  • Take a 10-minute walk outside the office for lunch. If you walk there and back, you have gotten half of your daily walk time.
  • Get off the subway a few stops early and walk off some of that exhaustion!
  • Take a five-minute walk around the office every 30 minutes or an hour. Talk with a coworker, visit the kitchen, or use the restroom! After you sit down again, you'll feel refreshed, happy, and able to focus better.

You can also use an app like 30/30 or Wunderlist to remind yourself to get up and move. 30/30 is a customizable timed to-do list that I use all the time to stay focused and get work done.

Another way to get yourself moving is to buy a pedometer. This will track your daily steps. Every day, you should be walking at least 10,000 steps (five miles).

There's one more way to get your walking even more fun...

5. Join a walking group on a daily basis

group

As I started my career as a programmer, I attended a three-month self-directed retreat at the Recurse Center (where programmers of all levels can dive deep and explore their biggest interests).

My workmate started a daily walk group while I was there, inspired by the book The Healthy Programmer.

We used to go on a 20-minute walk together every day around 2 or 3 p.m. At times we would treat ourselves to coffee, pastries, ice cream, or walk to the park.

Since everybody gets tired and lags at about 3 p.m., this arrangement was perfect. Additionally, it was a great and fun way to build relationships with people you wouldn't normally meet.

A lot better than going to the gym!

A daily walk group is a great way to boost productivity for managers and team leaders. By doing so, members of different teams will be able to interact and get to know each other better.

Collaboration is greatly enhanced as a result. Your engineering team will eventually need to communicate with the design team or customer insight team.

Although it is likely part of your role to facilitate cross-departmental communication and decision-making wouldn't it make your life easier if your engineers knew how the other team thinks and approaches things, too?

You can improve your health by doing more than just walking…

6. Avoid caffeine

avoid

There is no doubt that coffee, tea, and soda are very popular drinks. You won't really notice any difference from each of these every day, but consume more than a little bit, and you're pretty much setting yourself up for fatigue.

The receptor sites in your brain are activated when you consume caffeine. This prevents your neurochemical signals from getting through and doing what they were intended to do.

In essence, you're preventing your brain from working properly! As a result, you are left feeling exhausted and drained once the caffeine high wears off.

It is also possible to experience headaches or migraines. The most common response is to increase the amount of caffeine you consume.

The fact that caffeine is so addictive makes this a very bad idea. Caffeine blocks more and more receptors as you drink more of it.

Continue drinking caffeine on a daily basis and your brain will begin to expect this higher level as its baseline, forcing you to drink more caffeine in order to experience the same effect.

To convince you that you should cut down on caffeine remember that caffeine is a stimulant. As your blood pressure rises, so does the amount of work your heart has to do to keep you alive!

Caffeine withdrawal can be a challenge and quitting caffeine cold-turkey is probably too drastic.

Reduce your intake slowly throughout the week instead. Reduce your intake by half your usual amount.

Reduce your consumption as much as you can at a reasonable rate until it reaches zero (or at least a very small amount).

You can also switch to herbal tea or decaf coffee. You may even want to consider ginger ale (which is great for your stomach in moderation).

If you reduce your caffeine intake you'll need to replace it with something else. Would you like to know how?

7.  Drink plenty of water

hydrated

Drinking water might not be as exciting as sugary or caffeinated drinks but it is the most beneficial for your health.

Depending on your gender and physical composition 50–65% of your body is made up of water. Your brain, kidneys, lungs, heart and muscles are also made up of 75–80% water!

Keep in mind that staying hydrated is crucial to staying healthy; and staying healthy is essential to your energy levels, your mood, and your productivity!

What about all those other things we discussed earlier (headaches, fatigue, eye strain, back pain, etc.)? You can prevent them by staying hydrated!

Aside from all this, drinking enough water increases your metabolism for the next hour and a half by 24–30%.

It also aids digestion! Following my advice and replacing sugary drinks with water means you're taking in far fewer empty calories leading to a more manageable sugar crash. So drink up! You'll be glad you did.

Taking a few simple steps to keep your mind and body fit is a great way to stay healthy. Follow these tips every day and you'll feel happier and healthier!

But these are just a few of the many you can do. Another bonus hack: Remember to breathe!

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We are now seeking a passionate Full-Stack Developer to join our team of skilled talents. This is an excellent opportunity to join a fun and dynamic work environment and to significantly advance your career.

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Full-Stack Laravel/Vue Developer (Jr to Mid)

Cloud Employee, is a UK-owned Philippines business established 8 years ago. We connect high-performing software engineer talent in the Philippines with some of the world’s leading and most innovative tech companies. Developers join to work from the Philippines as part of international engineer teams and grow their CV and skill-set.

We pride ourselves on being supportive and cutting-edge work that continuously invests in staff development, engagement and well-being. We provide security, and career paths, along with individual training programs and mentoring.

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Full Stack .Net Developer

Cloud Employee, is a UK-owned Philippines business established 8 years ago. We connect high-performing software engineer talent in the Philippines with some of the world’s leading and most innovative tech companies. Developers join to work from the Philippines as part of international engineering teams and grow their CV and skill-set.We pride ourselves on being a supportive and cutting-edge workplace that continuously invests in staff development, engagement, and well-being. We provide security, and career paths, along with individual training programs and mentoring.

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Full-Stack Node/VueJS Developer (Mid - Senior)

Cloud Employee, is a UK-owned Philippines business established 8 years ago. We connect high-performing software engineer talent in the Philippines with some of the world’s leading and most innovative tech companies. Developers join to work from the Philippines as part of international engineer teams and grow their CV and skill-set.

We pride ourselves on being supportive and cutting-edge work that continuously invests in staff development, engagement and well-being. We provide security, and career paths, along with individual training programs and mentoring

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Full-Stack PHP Developer (Mid to Senior)

Cloud Employee is a fast-growing UK-managed offshore recruitment and staffing company in the Philippines. We tackle the growing global IT skills shortage by connecting tech companies based in Europe, the US, and Australia to our pool of expert software developers in the country.

We are now seeking passionate mid to senior-level Fullstack PHP Developer to join our team of skilled talents. This is an excellent opportunity to join a fun and dynamic work environment and to significantly advance your career.

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Full-Stack PHP Developer Tech Lead

Cloud Employee is a fast-growing UK-managed offshore recruitment and staffing company in the Philippines. We tackle the growing global IT skills shortage by connecting tech companies based in Europe, the US, and Australia to our pool of expert software developers in the country.

We are now seeking passionate Lead Full-Stack PHP Developer to join our team of skilled talents. This is an excellent opportunity to join a fun and dynamic work environment and to significantly advance your career.

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Full stack RoR/VueJS Developer

Cloud Employee, is a UK-owned Philippines business established 8 years ago. We connect high-performing software engineer talent in the Philippines with some of the world’s leading and most innovative tech companies. Developers join to work from the Philippines as part of international engineer teams and grow their CV and skill-set.

We pride ourselves on being supportive and cutting-edge work that continuously invests in staff development, engagement and well-being. We provide security, and career paths, along with individual training programs and mentoring.

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Fullstack Developer

Cloud Employee, is a UK-owned Philippines business established 8 years ago. We connect high-performing software engineer talent in the Philippines with some of the world’s leading and most innovative tech companies. Developers join to work from the Philippines as part of international engineer teams and grow their CV and skill-set.

We pride ourselves on being supportive and cutting-edge work that continuously invests in staff development, engagement and well-being. We provide security, and career paths, along with individual training programs and mentoring.

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Fullstack .NET Developer

Cloud Employee, is a UK-owned Philippines business established 8 years ago. We connect high-performing software engineer talent in the Philippines with some of the world’s leading and most innovative tech companies. Developers join to work from the Philippines as part of international engineer teams and grow their CV and skill-set.

We pride ourselves on being supportive and cutting-edge work that continuously invests in staff development, engagement and well-being. We provide security, and career paths, along with individual training programs and mentoring.

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Lead/Senior Frontend Developer (UI/UX) - Brazil

Cloud Employee is a UK-owned business established eight years ago. We connect high-performing software engineer talent worldwide with some of the world’s leading and most innovative tech companies. Developers join to work from the Philippines and Brazil as part of international engineering teams and grow their CV and skill-set.

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Marketing Specialists

Cloud Employee, is a UK-owned Philippines business established 8 years ago. We connect high-performing software engineer talent in the Philippines with some of the world’s leading and most innovative tech companies. Developers join to work from the Philippines as part of international engineer teams and grow their CV and skill-set.

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Backend Developer (Python)

Cloud Employee, is a UK-owned Philippines business established 8 years ago. We connect high-performing software engineer talent in the Philippines with some of the world’s leading and most innovative tech companies. Developers join to work from the Philippines as part of international engineer teams and grow their CV and skill-set.

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Senior/Team Lead Full-Stack PHP Developer

Cloud Employee is a fast-growing UK-managed offshore recruitment and staffing company in the Philippines. We tackle the growing global IT skills shortage by connecting tech companies based in Europe, the US, and Australia to our pool of expert software developers in the country.

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Senior Full-Stack PHP Developer

Cloud Employee is a UK-owned Philippines business established 8 years ago. We connect high-performing software engineer talent in the Philippines with some of the world’s leading and most innovative tech companies. Developers join to work from the Philippines as part of international engineering teams and grow their CV and skill-set.

We pride ourselves on being a supportive and cutting-edge workplace that continuously invests in staff development, engagement, and well-being. We provide security, and career paths, along with individual training programs and mentoring.

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7 ways to be a healthy programmer

February 16, 2024

In spite of all its positive aspects, programming can be one of the most damaging things for your health. Today's world presents physical and mental health challenges to developers.

The programming profession can be pretty risky if you suffer from wrist and back pain, migraines, eye strain, loss of motivation, and trouble focusing.

You may not have encountered one yet but it is almost certain you will one day. Fortunately, there are lots of simple techniques and hacks that can help here.

Keeping your body and mind in good shape is easy when you follow these seven tips.

1. Reduce blue light exposure with f.lux

blue

A third of the visible light spectrum consists of blue light also called high-energy visible (HEV) light.

As a whole, blue light is not bad since the sun is the main source of HEV light and the sky is blue because of HEV light.

In addition, blue light is known to boost alertness, memory, cognition, and mood (it is also used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder).

It is not all bad but staring at our screens all day exposes us to an unhealthy amount of blue light. What's worse, our eyes have a difficult time blocking it out!

Light scattered from HEV displays reduces contrast and causes digital eye strain.

We can suffer gradual (but permanent) loss of vision due to this process which damages our retinas and causes changes similar to macular degeneration.

Blue light may very well be the culprit if you need a new prescription every year.

However, f.lux is here to save the day! By automatically adjusting the color temperature of your computer screen (based on the time of day) f.lux is originally intended to help people sleep better.

Your color temperature and filtered light amount can be tailored using the configuration (you can also adjust these manually at any time).

You can disable f.lux for an hour or even until sunrise if you're a designer or doing color-sensitive work!

f.lux is available for free on all major desktop and mobile operating systems (except Apple mobile devices, which recently introduced a similar feature called Night Shift).

2. Set up your monitors properly

set-up

Preventing Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) starts with your monitor setup. Symptoms of CVS may include:

  • Eyestrain    
  • Irritated eyes
  • Dry eyes
  • Red eyes
  • Neck pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Polyopia
  • Hard to refocus eyes
  • Vertigo
  • Double vision

Fortunately, you can protect yourself from some of the damage with some preemptive mitigation!

First, if you're wearing glasses you'll have a harder time concentrating if you don't have the right prescription lenses.

Muscle fatigue will lead to headaches and deterioration of your vision.

Second, place your monitor between 20 and 40 inches away from you. This is about arm's length away.

You're too close to your monitor if you can give it a high five. You are too far away if you are unable to touch it.

Three, adjust your monitor's brightness based on the ambient lighting in the room. Checking a website with a white background is a great way to test its brightness.

You probably have too much brightness on your screen if it looks like a light source. It's probably too dark if it looks dull and gray.

Squinting and straining your eyes will result from a large disparity between your monitor and the room.

It may still be necessary to make slight manual adjustments for f.lux, if you use it as I suggested earlier. Good news! F.lux is on your side!

Fourth, make sure there is no excessive glare. A simple way to test this is to sit facing a window and see if the window reflects on your screen with your back to the window.

Getting a screen filter may be a good idea if there's too much glare on the screen. Wearing glasses with anti-glare coating is also a great option.

Reflections on the front and back of your glasses are blocked by anti-glare coating.

3. Follow the 20/20/20 rule to protect your eyes

eye

Exercise for your eyes is just as important as taking short walks! The "20/20/20 rule" can help you avoid focus fatigue and eye lockup (also known as accommodative spasm or "programmer's stare").

Look at something at least 20 feet away every 20 minutes for 20 seconds. The distance and duration can be increased even more. Take a minute to look away, or even longer!

You can also increase the level of protection by using the "10-15" variation. Observe something up close for 10–15 seconds every 20 minutes, followed by something far away for 10–15 seconds.

Continue this practice 10 times!

Last but not least, remember to blink to avoid dry eyes!

4. Go for a walk

walking

We are all starting to realize that sitting is the new smoking. Many of us have sat at our workstations for hours on end.

It's causing your back pain, straining your eyes, draining your energy, and may even be the reason you have a migraine.

Take a walk instead! An interesting study showed that walking for 40 minutes a few times a week for a year actually grew the hippocampus.

In your brain, the hippocampus helps create new memories. Mood and the autonomic nervous system are also regulated by it.

Additionally, walking for 20 minutes burns an average of 70-140 calories. As a bonus, walking can also help prevent back pain.

[40 min ✖️ 3 times a week = brain growth + better health]

Though it may seem overwhelming to you at first, 40 minutes can be broken down over the course of the day like this:

  • Take a 10-minute walk outside the office for lunch. If you walk there and back, you have gotten half of your daily walk time.
  • Get off the subway a few stops early and walk off some of that exhaustion!
  • Take a five-minute walk around the office every 30 minutes or an hour. Talk with a coworker, visit the kitchen, or use the restroom! After you sit down again, you'll feel refreshed, happy, and able to focus better.

You can also use an app like 30/30 or Wunderlist to remind yourself to get up and move. 30/30 is a customizable timed to-do list that I use all the time to stay focused and get work done.

Another way to get yourself moving is to buy a pedometer. This will track your daily steps. Every day, you should be walking at least 10,000 steps (five miles).

There's one more way to get your walking even more fun...

5. Join a walking group on a daily basis

group

As I started my career as a programmer, I attended a three-month self-directed retreat at the Recurse Center (where programmers of all levels can dive deep and explore their biggest interests).

My workmate started a daily walk group while I was there, inspired by the book The Healthy Programmer.

We used to go on a 20-minute walk together every day around 2 or 3 p.m. At times we would treat ourselves to coffee, pastries, ice cream, or walk to the park.

Since everybody gets tired and lags at about 3 p.m., this arrangement was perfect. Additionally, it was a great and fun way to build relationships with people you wouldn't normally meet.

A lot better than going to the gym!

A daily walk group is a great way to boost productivity for managers and team leaders. By doing so, members of different teams will be able to interact and get to know each other better.

Collaboration is greatly enhanced as a result. Your engineering team will eventually need to communicate with the design team or customer insight team.

Although it is likely part of your role to facilitate cross-departmental communication and decision-making wouldn't it make your life easier if your engineers knew how the other team thinks and approaches things, too?

You can improve your health by doing more than just walking…

6. Avoid caffeine

avoid

There is no doubt that coffee, tea, and soda are very popular drinks. You won't really notice any difference from each of these every day, but consume more than a little bit, and you're pretty much setting yourself up for fatigue.

The receptor sites in your brain are activated when you consume caffeine. This prevents your neurochemical signals from getting through and doing what they were intended to do.

In essence, you're preventing your brain from working properly! As a result, you are left feeling exhausted and drained once the caffeine high wears off.

It is also possible to experience headaches or migraines. The most common response is to increase the amount of caffeine you consume.

The fact that caffeine is so addictive makes this a very bad idea. Caffeine blocks more and more receptors as you drink more of it.

Continue drinking caffeine on a daily basis and your brain will begin to expect this higher level as its baseline, forcing you to drink more caffeine in order to experience the same effect.

To convince you that you should cut down on caffeine remember that caffeine is a stimulant. As your blood pressure rises, so does the amount of work your heart has to do to keep you alive!

Caffeine withdrawal can be a challenge and quitting caffeine cold-turkey is probably too drastic.

Reduce your intake slowly throughout the week instead. Reduce your intake by half your usual amount.

Reduce your consumption as much as you can at a reasonable rate until it reaches zero (or at least a very small amount).

You can also switch to herbal tea or decaf coffee. You may even want to consider ginger ale (which is great for your stomach in moderation).

If you reduce your caffeine intake you'll need to replace it with something else. Would you like to know how?

7.  Drink plenty of water

hydrated

Drinking water might not be as exciting as sugary or caffeinated drinks but it is the most beneficial for your health.

Depending on your gender and physical composition 50–65% of your body is made up of water. Your brain, kidneys, lungs, heart and muscles are also made up of 75–80% water!

Keep in mind that staying hydrated is crucial to staying healthy; and staying healthy is essential to your energy levels, your mood, and your productivity!

What about all those other things we discussed earlier (headaches, fatigue, eye strain, back pain, etc.)? You can prevent them by staying hydrated!

Aside from all this, drinking enough water increases your metabolism for the next hour and a half by 24–30%.

It also aids digestion! Following my advice and replacing sugary drinks with water means you're taking in far fewer empty calories leading to a more manageable sugar crash. So drink up! You'll be glad you did.

Taking a few simple steps to keep your mind and body fit is a great way to stay healthy. Follow these tips every day and you'll feel happier and healthier!

But these are just a few of the many you can do. Another bonus hack: Remember to breathe!

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