Since the position of official torturer is no longer a career aspiration in most civilized nations, people with sadistic tendencies seem to have migrated into two ecological niches; dentists and personal trainers. Don’t misunderstand me – I am sure these people are perfectly nice people when not wielding power in their natural environment, but they both fill me with the dread of pain soon to be inflicted.
There is a difference between these two professions, though. In the case of dentists, I avoid them in their professional capacity. However, I go by choice to see my personal trainer twice a week and pay for the privilege. Even after he proudly proclaimed to me one day that he finally was able to get a client of his to throw up during a session. The client in question is his fiancée.
What does this have to do with networking? A few weeks ago Greg tweeted the following:
Going to the gym so that I can sit down all day. #ironic
About twelve months ago, I started going to the gym. I had become the stereotypical, overweight, unhealthy tech guy. I have always been a large person, but last year, I had ballooned to around 148 kg (326 pounds). This was because I let the “work” part of work-life become 99% of the equation. For nearly two years, I had been the only senior engineer, on-call almost 24×7 even when on leave. I was the first into the building every day, and usually the last to leave. My stress levels were off the chart, and my health was suffering. This was exacerbated by a chronic underlying anxiety problem (inherited from my Dad, it seems). Essentially over the past few years, the job became my life. I was a pale shadow haunting the halls of the IT building, sending missives to colleagues at 3 am and having a permanent feed of the network status on my phone and PCs at all times.
Needless to say, this was part of the reason I decided to move on from that job. I was too heavily invested in a place I had worked for most of my working life, and I needed a fresh start, and a chance to start having a life away from work.
So, back to the gym. Getting motivated to get fitter is hard. I decided to invest in a personal trainer. Partly to help motivate me, but also so he could give me feedback. What is going to hurt and why. Which exercises to avoid when you have some back problems. Developing a program to help with nutrition and exercise between training sessions. Not telling me every day what my weight is because getting fitter and healthier is more important than hard numbers.
It was hard and painful, and it still is. But the benefits are worth it. In combination with some dietary changes, I have lost around 30 kg (66 pounds) since I started, and I feel much better. But what are the benefits for a job that a lot of people consider sedentary?
Well, true, the job can be sedentary. But think about the number of times you have to schlep across campus and up a couple of flights of stairs to console into a switch that has locked up. Or when you have to rack up that Nexus 7K. When you are unfit, that occasional effort leaves you puffing and panting. Also, being unfit, unhealthy or with disturbed sleep means you fatigue more easily as the day moves on.
The biggest benefit I have found is that I can handle stress and my anxiety much better now. My doctor often told me that regular exercise can be as effective as antidepressants. I don’t know if that is scientifically true, but I do find that now that I am exercising regularly and living a more healthy lifestyle, stressful situations are easier to cope with. And those stressful episodes are worse if they come late in the day, or when you are already fatigued, which overall fitness seems to help with.
Lastly, being unfit means you finish can a work day exhausted, with no energy for anything else, which is detrimental to the overall work-life balance; it can begin a vicious cycle where work is all you have energy for. Believe me, I’ve been there.
Of course, exercise is not the be-all and end-all. I still am working on other aspects of my work-life balance, and it will be quite some time yet until I can tweet that I have finished an 8-mile run like Amy. Don’t get me wrong, I hope it doesn’t come across as me trying to evangelize or preach here; but I would heartily recommend to everyone out there to do some regular exercise. It has helped me in my work life. In the long run, it can help you feel better, get through the day easier and then have some energy for other activities outside work.
To finish up, some general advice. I am not a doctor or an expert, far from it. Your mileage may vary.
- If you haven’t done exercise in a while, it is going to hurt a bit (or a lot). Get some advice before starting, especially from your doctor if you are very unfit or have some underlying issues such as back or joint pain. This is very important; I got a full workup before I started.
- The gym may not be for you. Find out what you like, but get moving. Find something fun.
- Get help if you need it. Exercising alone can be hard. Someone there to motivate and encourage can help.
- Don’t focus on numbers. For me, it is all about how I feel. Tracking pounds and inches can be disheartening if the trend is not always down. If you can mow the lawn without collapsing, that is better than not losing 5 pounds on schedule.
And for all that I said at the start of the article, my trainer is a great guy. I never would have got where I am without his help. I still don’t like going to the dentist though. Sorry.