Sitting behind a desk all day is a typical part of a software developer’s life. It is easy to become lazy and sedentary, which describes me over most of my career. That all changed in 2020. The COVID pandemic brought on a new era of remote work. Not having a daily commute gave me the chance to come up with a new morning routine.
Before I begin, I want to point out some things that should be obvious.
First, you should never take diet or exercise advice from a software developer, particularly one you have never met. This stuff worked for me, to accomplish the things I set out to do. I share the stories below as a means to inspire. As always, seek professional advice before making any significant life changes.
Second, if your purpose in exercising is specifically to lose weight, you will probably be severely disappointed. I learned a long time ago that exercise primarily builds muscle. Contrary to popular belief, it does not directly lead to weight loss. Indirectly, it may help you lose weight simply because it changes your attitude towards your health. You may find yourself eating better.
On the other hand, if you overdo the exercise, you could end up being more hungry, which will lead to overeating.
A few years ago, when I lived in Central New Hampshire, any sort of regular exercise was difficult. The long New England winters do not cooperate. One school year, during the fall and following spring, I was able to take 2-hour lunches and play tennis most weekdays with my wife. We would drop our daughter at afternoon kindergarten, go to the courts, play for a while, and then go home. After quick meal and shower, I would be back at my desk and work until dinner.
Once the snows hit, tennis became impossible. I looked for indoor courts, but they would have required a long drive and a hefty membership fee. There were indoor pools, but also relatively expensive and more than 30-minutes away by car.
Maybe a treadmill?
At one point, I bought a used treadmill and an original XBox. I had an old 13” color TV sitting in the basement, so I hooked it up to the XBox and placed it just in front of the treadmill. I used that treadmill for about an hour every morning for a year. I finished Splinter Cell and Splinter Cell 2, and ran through countless seasons of Madden NFL.
One year into this routine, I was stronger and slightly fitter, but had lost no weight and no inches off my waist. The only physical improvement I noticed was that our next Disney trip was far easier on my feet and legs.
Couch to 5k
When I left New Hampshire and moved to Florida, I again decided that I needed to be more physically active. I downloaded a Couch-to-5k app on my phone and started following it. If you are not aware of how they work, it is pretty simple. On the first day, you walk for 5 minutes, then run for 30 seconds, then walk, then run, etc. Every few days, the ratio of walking to running decreases. Eventually, if you follow the program as designed, and complete the entire thing, you should be able to run a 5k in about six weeks. What I discovered is that my middle-aged knees simply could not handle even that modest level of abuse. After the end of the second week, they hurt so bad I could not walk properly for a month.
I took a break from exercise for the next few years.
What finally worked?
When the COVID pandemic struck in March 2020 and we were all told to work from home. I decided to try to create another exercise routine. The Central Florida town where I live has miles of walking and biking trails, so I figured that is where I would start.
I came up with a few goals I wished to achieve:
- It has to be interesting enough that I want to do it.
- It has to be low-impact to protect my knees.
- It needs to be year-round (easier in Florida).
- Eventually, I want to be able to jog a mile, which means strengthening my knees.
For the first, I re-activated my audible.com account and downloaded a bunch of audio books from my wishlist. I have listened to audio books and podcasts for decades during my morning and evening commutes. One of the few drawbacks to working from home is that I no longer have that time in the car, so my audio book habit dwindled. I vowed to myself only to listen to the books during my exercise routine, which provided me an extra incentive.
Next, I tuned up my bicycle and made sure it was road/trail worthy. There are not many exercises lower-impact than bicycling. I selected a decent roundtrip path that would take me 30-45 minutes, and decided to start the next day.
My year-round requirement is mostly easy to manage in Florida. It would be harder in colder climates. Florida summers can be rough, however, so my routine starts a few minutes before sunrise.
Even in Florida, morning temperatures in the winter months can be in the 30s and 40s. Add the wind-chill from bike riding at 10-15 mph, and it can be downright unpleasant. So, when the weather turns cooler, I shift to my goal. I decided that when it is chilly in the morning, I would simply wear something a bit warmer and then walk and run.
I still budget 30-45 minutes, but I walk for most of the route. It had occurred to me that the problem with my knees might have been related to the hard surface I was using and my shoes. I bought a pair of new running shoes and decided not to run on the road or sidewalk. Most of our town trails are wooden boardwalks, and they provide quite a bit more cushion than any of the hard surfaces.
Every morning I start my trip by walking briskly for about 5-7 minutes, working my way to the nearest boardwalk. I try to maintain a speed of at least 3.5 mph, which I track with my Apple Watch. When I get to the boardwalk, I begin to jog.
On the very first day, I doubt I ran more than 60 seconds before I had to stop, completely out of breath. Then I walked until I could breathe normally. As soon as I was able, I went back to a jog. However long I manage to jog, I make sure I am paying attention to the way my feet strike the surface to protect my knees. I also try to keep my breathing deep and controlled. As soon as either my lungs or knees start to feel uncomfortable, I reduce my speed to a walk. I repeated this pattern for the better part of a month. My pace and ability slowly improved.
On some mornings, when it feels warm enough, I choose to ride my bike. On cooler days, I walk and run instead. Then one day it struck me. I do not remember when the change happened, but suddenly it was no longer a question about whether I would go outside and do something, but instead it was a question of what exercise I would do that day. I had established a pattern and habit of exercise.
Though I am not yet able to run that mile, I am getting closer. My watch keeps track of my average speed and time, both of which continue to improve.
Around the summer of 2020, one of our executives thought it would be fun for us to share any new routines we created during the pandemic. Always being a bit of a jokester, I grabbed a camera and put together a short clip of my morning bike ride, but with a surprise ending. It is only a minute long. I trust it will give you a mild chuckle.
I hope you enjoyed this brief look at how I finally created an exercise routine I both enjoy and can do consistently. I have not lost any weight yet, but I am stronger, can run and walk for longer periods of time, and I feel a lot better.
Now I need to do something about my atrocious diet.
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Did I make any mistakes in this post? Feel free to suggest an edit.