A geeks solution to better health

Us web designers and website owners tend to be an unhealthy lot. Sitting for hours on end in front of our computers. However, we can lead a more healthy lifestyle. I am.

Ever since I was a child I have always been a stereotypical geek. I was always rubbish at sport and the last to be picked for any team. I suffered from allergies which meant that outdoor sports in the summer were like hell on earth. As the winter I never understood the point of playing a game like rugby on frozen ground.

Fortunately for me most of my life I have been the kind of person who remains relatively slim no matter what I eat or how little exercise I do. This is helped me hide in multitude of sins from bad diet to endless hours spent just sitting in front of my computer.

However about two years ago I began to notice the detrimental effect my lifestyle was having on me. My lack of exercise and poor diet and finally overcome my high metabolism. I began to put on weight and noticed how even a little exertion would exhaust me. On top of that my lack of exercise and poor diet was beginning to affect my mental health too. I was finding myself suffering from bouts of depression and lethargy. Eventually I decided it was time to do something about this.

Watching my weight

Being the geek I am I turn to technology as the answer. I decided to start by losing some weight and generally eating healthier. As my wife was a Weight Watchers leader I decided to give that a try. My first stop was the iPhone App Store where I discovered iWatchr, a great application for tracking your Weight Watchers points. In addition I also purchased a set of Withing scales. These Internet enabled scales transfer data about your weight to their web application and you can also access all of the data from their iPhone app. For some reason having this date are available on my iPhone turned it into some kind of game in my head. I found myself being very competitive and wanting to see my weights line heading downwards.

Introducing exercise

With my weight heading in the right direction I decided to add some exercise into the mix. After trying numerous iPhone apps I eventually settled on Crunchfu. Again this game like qualities and social aspects hooked me very quickly. Being able to challenge my friends and share my successes online inspired me to the point where I went from being able to do 20 crunches to over 200. In fact I found this application so much fun but I quickly added Pushupfu into the mix. By using Omnifocus to remind me to do my daily exercises it quickly became a part of my normal routine.

Improving my posture

My next challenge is to address my posture. Years of sitting in front of a computer and left me with rounded shoulders. Once again my wife has been my inspiration as she does yoga regularly and that has done wonders for her posture. That said I have no intention of going to my local yoga class which seems to be entirely full of middle-aged women! I have therefore once again turned to iPhone applications as the answer. After looking at numerous yoga applications I finally settled All-In Yoga. Although the application is primarily aimed at women I can assure you it is extremely effective and very challenging. It is certainly an effective workout.

All-in YOGA iPhone App

Of course a few minutes of yoga every day is not going to make up for the eight hours of sitting hunched over a computer. I have therefore turned to Posture Coach to help me with that. You simply place your iPhone in a shirt pocket or hang it around your neck and it will be with you every time your posture becomes bad. It’s a great way to get you sitting up straight while working at your computer.

Turning exercise into a game

Although I still would not consider myself fit I do feel that I’ve found a “geek solution” to our very unhealthy lifestyle. However this week has seen the launch of one more iPhone application that is aimed specifically at improving the health of those of us who spend our lives sitting in front of computers.

The application is called FitFu and comes from the same people who produce PressupFu and CrunchFu. The application encourages us to take regular small breaks from work to do a small amount of exercise. The real genius of the application is that you can compete against friends and level up like you would do in a computer game. You earn experience points, increase in levels and win prizes the more exercise you do. Also if you do not exercise regularly you actually lose experience points over time. This makes the application incredibly addictive. It does a brilliant job at bringing out the competitive nature I have had playing computer games for years and tapping in to my OCD tendencies.

FitFu iPhone App

The reason I share all of this with you is that as I attend web design conferences I look around the room and see large numbers of young men living on borrowed time. Many of those in new audience are like I used to be. They live unhealthy lifestyles, and worked long hours, but get away with it because they are still young. The time will come however when they will pay the price and I hope this post will encourage both them and you to take action now using some of these cool applications I have suggested.

And if after reading this you decide to try out FitFu then I would encourage you to add me as a friend. My username is unsurprisingly “Boagworld”.

  • Runkeeper is also a brilliant iPhone app for tracking fitness. It tracks your run using GPS, then works out stats/calories burned based on your weight/height. Also motivates you with graphs etc showing how far to go until you’ve run more km than last week/month. Can’t recommend it enough if you are a runner, but also suitable for other activities. There is a paid version but I have been using the free one for over a year now.


  • Not bad, but I would suggest that getting away from the technology is just as important. I do a huge amount of cycling and find that keeps me very fit. As a bonus maintaining the bike satisfies my geek/engineering needs and also allows me to unplug for a bit (apart from using Google to find out how to do things).

    Also from a christian perspective I thinh something like Pilates is better than Yoga as it does not have the spiritualist/buddhist aspect. It has also done wonders for my posture. Like you it was my wife that persuaded me to do that :)

    • Chris, I agree. After taking a ten year break from cycling (25 to 35) I found the pounds rolling on, my lung power reduced to almost zero and my general energy levels at rock bottom.

      After a few well paid projects I invested in a decent (£750) new mountain bike and a year later I feel like a new man. If you’re lucky enough to be self-employed like me you can also fit your rides in around projects.

      Not only does your physical fitness soon improve but your mental health seems to improve too. Myabe it’s the silence, the nature, the lack of screens and phones and Facebook as well as the exrcise that does it. I come home calm and ready to work. Plus I often solv development issues without trying – the answers just seem to fall into my head during the ride.

      The last month in the UK has been terrible for cycling. We’ve had lots of snow and sub-zero temperatures so I haven’t cycled more than a few miles a week. And in that one month I can feel myself turning back to that lazy, out-of-breath bum I was a year ago. Proof that it has been the cycling keeping me well for the last year. Roll on Spring!

    • Also a mountainbiker comeback here, the sleepiness and tiredness were getting the best of my head, biking is very good for the heart with no risk for the knees. And answers do come to my head during the ride.

      The thing with runkeeper is that they don’t have a blackberry app, so endomondo does the trick for me, which also has a great community.
      But I guess I’m the only designer in the world that has a blackberry.

  • Exercise is harder to keep up when it’s a chore like buying insurance or flossing your teeth. That’s why things like the apps you suggested Paul are helpful, they add a game element for a bit of fun. But I think I have a better solution.

    What if the exercise you’re doing is inherently, automatically and inextricably fun? I recommend squash. The simple act of hitting the ball with a racket is satisfying — it makes a noise, it goes fast, there is tactile feedback, brilliant. After that it does have some extra depth to keep you engaged:

    • You have an opponent. They’re trying to hit the ball out of your reach while you do the same to them. Competition can be motivating. You may even get so distracted you forget that it’s exercise!

    • You “collect” shots as you improve. As a beginner you might only have a drive to work with. Develop a lob, a drop shot, a boast and a volley and it’s like unlocking tools in a video game.

    • The game is tactical. Observe your opponent’s weaknesses and play to them. Use the shots above to engineer situations where you can win the point.

    • Learn to lie. Make your lob look like a drop shot, and your boast look like a drive. It can be a lot of fun to read your opponent reading you, and send them totally the wrong way.

    Motivation is automatic when the activity is fun. I can’t help but think that eventually you’re brain will realise you’re doing crunches underneath the iPhone app :)

    Maybe those unable to cycle in the snow could give it a go?

  • I started this app yesterday and man has it kicked my butt! I’m sore all over so I know it’s actually working :) If anyone wants to add me, my username is amberweinberg ;)

  • FANTASTIC!! Thank you Paul!

    Didn’t realise I wanted Apps like these till I read your post. Have bought them all except the weight ones.

    Can I recommend ‘paranoia’ as a terrific way to keep slim and continue to eat what you want!!! snigger

    Merry Christmas all
    Pixie x

  • A +1 for RunKeeper for me too. The app itself is fantastic. It’s also worth getting the paid version. You get some really nice features like audio cues while running.

    FitFu looks good so I have signed up. A little watch out for anyone trying it in the middle of your quite office. It’s like the YouTube app and completely ignores that your phone is on silent and plays sounds as loud as your regular volume setting. In my case – loud :P Sorry office!

    • And I should add that I’m Leesy if anyone would like to add me too.

  • Awesome idea. I never though about browser for
    this kind of apps. You don’t happen to have some Android Apps
    though. It’s not like iPhone is the centre of the universe

  • Lee Theobald

    I’ve just seen that RunKeeper Pro is free from now until the end of Jan so if you guys haven’t tried out RunKeeper before – go get it!


  • Hi Paul,

    I thought you had written my biography for most of that. Poor diet, little exercise, long hours and a bigger waistline just about sums me up at the minute and I have also gone the geek route to sort it out.

    I cant reommend EA Sports Active 2 enough, it’s available on Wii, 360 and PS3, I went for the latter. Doing a 3 week card vascular program at the minute and at the end of week one (4 workouts) I am laid up on the sofa with thighs that feel like they are on fire every time I move and a feeling that 2011 will see me return to my “normal” size.

    Happy new year matey, hopefully a fitter one for many of us
    Chris :)

  • Roxanne

    Thanks for these suggestions, Paul! I’ve always struggled with forcing myself to be physically active since nearly all my interests are sedentary. I used the tag “shardsofblue” for FitFu if anyone is still collecting friends.

  • Debbie

    I’ve been using FitFu the last few days after listening to Boagworld Boo, “Applying the Principles of Game Design to Your Site” and I love it. The concept reminded me of the EpicWin app that turns your household chores into a roleplaying game. Great geeky fun!

    My username is thedebolavirus if anyone wants to add me.