Book Excerpt: Bruce Perry’s Fitness For Geeks

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Interview: John Robb

This is an excerpt from Bruce Perry’s Fitness For Geeks, a blueprint for getting healthy in a connected world. In this section, he outlines the typical day for someone who wants to get healthy without gym memberships, expensive diet plans, and odd tactics.

And Now for Something Completely Different

Try this: you wake up without an alarm sometime soon after sunrise, with plenty of time to spare to make it to work.

It was a good sleep; you went to bed just after nine o’clock after having a snack consisting of coconut milk blended with blueberries and a little whey powder. You’re already savvy about getting enough REM sleep, but now you aim to bump up your deep sleep, or restorative NREM. You might even check out the wave chart your Zeo produced.

The first thing you do is pour a cup of black tea or coffee and go outside to this pool of sunlight you’ve noticed out your window.

You bask and reflect in it for a minute, perhaps followed by a few Tai Chi moves, push-ups on the lawn, or pull-ups on the jungle gym across the street from your apartment. You sip a bit more coffee and return to your living space to get ready for the commute.

Technically speaking, as you gazed up into the sky and basked in that sun, the light rays touched your retinas and were transduced by the hypothalamus and pineal gland in your brain, which has now helped set your circadian rhythms for the day.

Mindfulness

The sun you got wasn’t much, not like spending the morning on the beach in the British Virgin Islands (gotta do that someday…), but it had the effect of lightening your mood, clearing your head, and kick-starting the day. You’ve sent the message to your body and your brain, “It’s morning and I’m well rested and ready to go.”

Every other day you stop at an intervening fitness facility to lift a few weights or do a 300-yard swim interspersed with a handful of 25-yard sprints—nothing too much, but today you’re biking to the train station, where they’ve thoughtfully included a place to lock your rig.

The train ride into the center of the city (Boston, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, Montreal; Zurich, Frankfurt, Copenhagen, London, Sydney, Wellington, Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto…) takes 35 minutes, and you stand for most of it, just because it feels better.

Geek Gear

You kind of want to rack up more activity points on this web-connected, motion-sensitive, stair-counting altitude calculator you’ve clipped onto your belt (yeah, it’s called a Fitbit), although gear isn’t strictly necessary this morning. It’s just fun, in a geeky kind of obsessive way. You like quantifying and logging your exercise. This act itself seems motivating. The web charts your gear generates later are actually quite impressive. They can show your oscillating movement throughout the day, and pinpoint the days when you need more.

Gathering data is not useless when you act upon it.

The tool for adding up your daily motion mileage works with an odd “tail wagging the dog” effect; you seem to move more when you’re wearing it. Further, you never really knew that ordinary movement could equate to that much mileage during the day. More than six miles sometimes, even though your walks were broken up into several smallish ones. Plodding along on a treadmill just isn’t necessary anymore. You love looking at the stats at the end of the day. Just keep moving, you say to yourself. Seek the sun.

Hard-Boiled Eggs to Go

Breakfast today was two hard-boiled eggs (eggs bought the previous weekend at a farmer’s market), a piece of Swiss cheese, a bite of salmon left over from last night, and two plums plus an avocado (also purchased at the market). Yesterday, you fasted through breakfast, and that felt fine. Actually, the bit of coffee plus “intermittent fast” kept you pretty perky throughout the morning.

You’ve got a little plastic bag in your backpack containing the rest of the salmon, a mixture of almonds and walnuts, an apple, and a square of 85% high-cacao chocolate. In a pinch, there’s a good salad place near work. It only took a couple of weeks not to miss that bagel anymore, and especially all that crappy margarine (you go for really yellow butter now)—the sluggishness and lack of satiety it seemed to leave you with, and the way it seemed to take half the morning to digest it and the donut and scone you piled on top of it.

Hopping off the train, you walk about 30 minutes the rest of the way to work, on the sunny side of the street, even though you could have dipped into the subway or hopped on a bus.

Dude, Take the Stairs

Work is on the third floor of a tall building, but you take the stairs, walking briskly past a line of people waiting at the elevator. Their auras are uniformly glum, as if someone else is pulling their strings. You have never taken the elevator, including that time your supervisors were standing in front of it with expectant looks, suggesting they had an axe to grind.

You take the stairs two at a time, simply because the heft in your upper leg feels good. Your heart rate gets going, but not that much; you’ve noticed that improvement over the months.

OCD About Health

The morning goes on and you switch between sitting and standing in your cubicle—standing most of the time. You have a pretty good stand-up workstation setup. Besides, the standing for hours bumps up those motion and- mileage numbers, which no one else could possibly care about, except other users fidgeting with their tracking devices and apps and going online afterward with the data. You don’t mind having an obsessive-compulsive disorder involving healthy habits. You also don’t mind going without your gear for a day or two. No big deal.

About every hour or 90 minutes during the day, you head down those stairs again and back outside into the sun. When you get blocked on a sticky piece of code or logical problem, this brisk walk helps almost every time. Often, you experience casual moments outside that you always will remember and never would have experienced if you’d stayed in your cubicle all day, like that majestic hawk that hovered in the blue sky before it alighted on the ledge of a distant building. You tried to estimate its wingspan as it hung frozen in the cerulean blue.

Hey, He Likes Me!

That handsome dude or attractive woman with the healthy glow who spoke to you out of the blue that time when you were both sitting on a bench, chilling— that hadn’t happened to you in a long while; it’s usually just awkward silences and departures, ships passing at night. You’re going to see him/her again sometime; you’re going to swap phone numbers.

You take longer walks sometimes in the city, until you find yourself drifting around with a relaxed aimlessness, kind of like Owen Wilson in the movie Midnight in Paris.

You have the usual “meetings” (the quotation marks question their purposefulness) in the mid-morning and afternoon. You stand during both, and it seems to have a contagious effect. Two other people stood up during the second meeting, and you could have sworn both confabs went a little faster. You’re beginning to get a rep as “that healthy guy” around the office.

Knock Off Some Bench Presses

By the end of the day you’ve climbed about 12 floors and maybe walked a couple of miles or more (the number of miles you cover in a day, counting everything, always surprises you). A formal workout in the middle of the day is not necessary. But sometimes you duck into the company fitness facility on a rainy day and knock off some bench presses, pull-ups, and inverted push-ups. Sometimes it’s just a dash on a treadmill, or some karate kicks followed by Tai Chi. It takes no more than about 30 minutes.

Your workouts almost never exceed that length of time. When they do, horsing around would be a better way to describe them than workouts or training sessions: playing catch using a winged Nerf football with your son or a friend, or gliding along a country road on a mountain bike.

It All Adds Up to Something Good

Are you getting the point here? You’re able to shoulder a pretty hard job and commute, while staying healthy, mindful, and reasonably content. The days seem to flow more, instead of banging together like an extended train wreck, with you occupying the middle passenger car. Who could argue with that? You even get the monthly $50 bonus they pay at work to the employees with the fewest sick days!

The intent of the last assemblage of paragraphs wasn’t to get all vainglorious and virtuous about healthy lifestyles—although it was fun to write—as much as to paint a narrative about surviving the Digital Age and emerging from your days mostly unscathed (maybe an occasional bruised ego, but it comes with the territory, right?). This chapter has introduced some basic fitness concepts that the rest of the book will cover in sometimes extensive detail:

• Living in the Digital Age, where culture, data, and networks never sleep, but still incorporating the sun, lots of walking, and outdoor experiences— living closer to the imperatives of our preloaded software (our very deep past).

• The benefits of whole, non-processed, real food—and even a bit of “intermittent” fasting every week.

• The advantages of incorporating ordinary exercise regimes like stair climbing, lengthy, aimless walking (no matter how cold it is!), sprints, jumps, and hill-climbing extemporaneously, when you can.

• Using useful tracking tools and personal metrics to augment your fitness, share your progress with friends, help others work through some physical glitches or sleep issues, or for just plain time-wasting fun (when you have that time, that is).

• The importance of sleep and de-stressing; they could save your life.

• The advantages of other lifestyle tactics like freezing swims, saunas, and fasting, not to mention moderate exercise and a good drink now and then. These are examples of “hormesis,” or good stress (see Chapter 11). Unlike many faddish weight-loss and fitness schemes, the changes just described do not involve any expensive program or club fees, or drastic dietary changes (like “zero carb or fat”), except for the optional purchase of a few fun and useful gadgets or tools when you have a little extra change.