Cover image for How to Stay Fit Physically and Mentally and Keep Coding

How to Stay Fit Physically and Mentally and Keep Coding

ilonacodes profile image Ilona Dee Codes ・4 min read

Throughout the last year, I have worked part-time as a working student and also studied at the university. I was not the first and not the last one who has combined that during their studies, but the problem for me was, that at the end of the day I have felt absolutely exhausted mentally and physically. That caused problems with my health and motivation to continue working on my goals or anything. (yeah, “goals,” I wish I had something more specific at that time).

Those “signals” showed that I am doing something wrong with my life and it cannot go on like this anymore. I understood that I need changes.

- What kind of changes?
That will help me to balance my life and bring my thoughts in order.

- Who do they depend on?
Everything depends on me, my decisions, and actions.

- How can I cause them?
By following the next action items:

1. Daily physical exercise

In my situation then anything would be useful (even just a short walk). The key is to remember to get out of your chair and move. And I know, that’s the biggest challenge. It’s great if you recognize that you need to move during your breaks. First I did manage to get out and walk at lunch about 15 minutes, and now I continue doing that too with adding cardio (20 min.) and yoga (20 min) in the evening in my daily routine.

2. Low carb diet

First and foremost, we have a “sitting” job (just like more and more people these days, most of the knowledge workers these days, etc.). So, when it comes to our diet, we need to reduce carbohydrates because eating them increases the sugar level in our blood. Sugar gives energy, but it’s processed by our bodies just too quickly. In such a short time, the spike is created, and the body regulates it by injecting insulin to the blood, and that removes the sugar from the blood and makes us sleepy very quickly. So, we developers cannot be productive anymore and wishing for a nap during the working day. And the “quick fix” is to eat more sugar and get out of form even more.

3. Get a sufficient amount of sleep

Programmers who sleep less and code more eventually burn out.

Now I am working as a software engineer, busy with blogging, studying new things that are not related to my profession after work, doing that daily workout, and actually, I guess, I need more time to sleep than 7-8 hours per day, so recently I sleep around 9-10 hours. Nevertheless, 7-8 hours per night is ideal for most adults.

As the work routine in IT industry involves much of mental exertion and less physical exhaustion, it’s possible to manage even with less sleep in case the person feels mentally fresh. However, it’s crucial to strike a balance between the number of hours spent awake vs. asleep.

4. Non-programming activity

Many software developers consider programming as a hobby first. And also trying to keep up-to-date with the latest technologies and the newest advances in the field is also essential for pursuing a career in the IT industry.

In fact, in terms of mental processing, the job is much more similar to a lawyer or doctor than anything else.

Becasue of this intensity, it is an excellent idea to have something different to do as a hobby.

At work, we are continuously interacting with lots of other people. Lots of backgrounds. It’s essential to be able to chat with a wide range of people about ‘normal non-work stuff’ at work. And to be able to talk at different levels to many different disciplines or topics.

In this case, having a hobby will help us to become a more rounded person and get along with a wide range of people at work much easier.

5. The psychological trick to staying fit with hard questions

Usually, we’re trying to avoid tough questions, because we’re not sure how to answer them and to where even start. Questions like: “What is my long-term goal?” “Why do I like doing this?” “Why am I feeling like this?” and so on.

Taking the time to think about these questions and finding your answers will allow you to value your own physical and mental health much more, and you’ll be able to take care of yourself better.

There tend to be more mental tricks which are so simple, that it’s almost a crime that you aren’t using them every day.

If you want to learn more about the psychological hacks, how and where they can be applied, then you can find them in my weekly newsletter, along with your FREE Professional Networking Cheat Sheet.

Thank you for reading! 🙏

If you have any thoughts on this post, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter, and leave comments below.


Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

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ilonacodes profile

Ilona Dee Codes


I help developers to condense finance + investment knowledge via my tiny newsletters (+1000 readers) 📨 Get top-15 tips on how to save more cash monthly 👇


Editor guide

What I do to stay fit:

  • Every 25 minutes (pomodoro session), I get up and stretch.
  • I alternate between sitting and standing desk positions (if the job/internship I have has one)
  • I go mountain biking on the weekends during summer

What I want to improve:

  • Going to the gym. I used to go there 3-4 a weeks and really enjoyed power lifting
  • Cut on carbs more. Not all a problem, but I can still improve.
  • Take a walk on my lunch breaks. Listening to podcasts instead of watching YT videos.
  • Learn a martial art. I only had some class during pre college and had fun since it's a nice all around discipline (physical and psychological)

Thank you for sharing 🙏 I really like your upcoming plan very much!


Just today I went for a walk during lunch break. I had your post in mind and it inspired me to do better.


I would like to share a couple of psychological shifts that I have made, which seem to be working for the long-term. I don't like to call it tricks, or hacks, because it is a completely normal way that the mind works. If anything our minds have been tricked and hacked by abnormal things in our environment :-) and we're retraining them to normality.

  • Choose DISCIPLINE, and NOT motivation

    • motivation is fleeting, it comes and goes
    • motivation is passive, it happens TO you
    • discipline is active, you choose it
  • Make the journey itself its own reward

    • Don't focus on the goals
    • Don't stress that the results aren't happening "fast enough"
    • Hard things worth doing always take longer than we think they will
    • You'll NEVER get results if you quit due to not getting results
    • Reward yourself with the self-esteem & inner security of simply knowing that TODAY, you did one thing no matter how small toward your goals, and it's not about the goals anymore anyway, it's about showing up today and doing one small thing
  • Remember your ego WILL backlash on you

    • Regardless if the changes you're making are good or bad, your ego doesn't care: its job is to maintain status quo, no matter what
    • If you "backslide" or return to old habits, take that as a GOOD SIGN
    • It means that your ego is clinging desperately to fight the change
    • It's a sign that you're actually making changes
    • So just choose DISCIPLINE today and do one small, doable thing today

Finally I want to say that a daily practice of meditation will probably give you everything you need to be able to do the rest. Everything you need to know is already inside of yourself. Train yourself and your mind to take pauses, away from default reacting, toward thoughtful response.

AND, sorry I talk too much (-:

I choose to get up early enough and do everything first thing in the morning. That is how it works for me, or else I know I won't do it later. Get up, get it done, feel awesome for having done it, don't spend the rest of the day feeling guilty.


Great post!

I try to follow most of these points on a daily basis, but I really struggle with getting proper sleep. I gotta work on that.

I just don't like the low carb fad because not all carbs are evil, only the refined ones are!

Whole carbs actually help to control our blood sugar levels. Think of oats: they're loaded with carbs, but they are recommended even for people with diabetes.

That's why I think that instead of cutting on all carbs, we should be cutting on bad carbs only.


I understand you 😅
Yes, it's true: "we should be cutting on bad carbs only" 👍


Thanks for a great post Ilona, super important subject.


I am happy to share this experience with the dev community! 🙂


I wrote How Programmers Can Improve Their Fitness Without Going to the Gym, which is a good starting point for somebody wanting to improve their fitness. I even linking a bunch of backing studies!

As to low-carb diets, I have a site dedicated to exploring such recipes and information, Edaqa's Kitchen. Main point, don't stress too much here. Reduce sugar, replace white with whole grain, and you'll be a lot better off. Beyond that, skip the rice and pasta.


Thank you for the link to the post! I have read it and agree with all the provided action items to improve our fitness 👍


The title should be "How to Stay Fit Physically and Mentally and Keep Coding Without Kids" just to be more realistic :) , now I am not saying that it's not possible, however when you have little ones that part where you say "Get Sleep" and Exercise , yeah that's not going to happen in same day or few times a week unless there is 30 hrs in a day or you work 9-2.

Good post, I think no matter who/what the situation is everyone should take time for their body even if it's 20-30 minutes more a day.


Ah, yea, having kids is totally different setup. I try to live balanced, having proper sleep, having exercise, pay attention to nutrition intakes, but I must say that, this is much more difficult if you have a small kid.


Totally agree. I code after my child sleeps after 8pm for 2 hours every other day. I strength train the nx day instead. (current setup)


I work at a university and i've noticed that all the age groups have begun to do most of desk work standing.While the students have still been placed into the traditional seated learning.Why haven't more systems been adjusting this?


Interesting observation! I wish I knew the answer 😩


I guess it's because there are no concrete studies that would prove that standing work is any healthier than seated work, it's still in high debate


I have a colleague that applies the pomodoro technique and always stays productive. I didn't know what he was doing because it was masked by his smoking needs but I soon realised he never spent more than 5 minutes doing that.


Perhaps, he did that subconsciously, or?
BTW, I know many software developers who use the Pomodoro technique and cannot be productive without it anymore.


No. He knows Pomodoro. I just didn't know at the time that that was what he was doing. I thought he needed frequent breaks because he smokes. I guess he does but maybe that helps him be more productive. Maybe people that smoke are more productive than people that don't, since they often take small breaks.

I personally feel that frequent breaks make me very unproductive


This is something we need to hear more often! Balance is SO IMPORTANT, from physical exercise, to diet, to sleep.

Sometimes I find myself falling into bad habits and have to give myself a kick. Immediately start feeling (and coding!) better again.


Yeah, sometimes that happens to me too 😅In the end, we are all just humans.


You may want to rethink your advice with respect to a "low-carb diet". I don't want to go into all the details here but I'd recommend these resources:

I'd be happy to suggest more videos and reading material if you're interested.


Thank you for the links to the informative sources! I will check them out 🙂


This reminds me, I've been working on a cheap alternative to stand up desk using 3d printer parts and 1in pvc. Will try to finish this soon, my weight has increased dramatically :(, I gotta shake this off. I'll make a post about it.


Wow! I would be interested to read this post 😃


I don't like to read articles much but this one was a joy to read. Specifically because if the way you presented your arguments. They were well supported with logical reasoning and not too critical of what we coders tend to get a bit defensive about 😅


Thank you very much for the comment! It seems that I am lucky if you liked it 🙈


Great one.
I myself started to hit the gym very early in the morning after reading "atomic habits".
It has been a month now and I can clearly see the difference on how I'm handling work. my coding is improving, I'm less stressed and my pains for being to much time on the desk diminished a lot and after all learned a bunch of new stretches.


Yes, it works! Because physical activity is one of the most effective ways to improve our mental health and productivity.


It's hard to find texts so objective, simple yet deep and well written lately. I could read your entire post and feel comfortable, not only with the flow, but also the lack of typos and common sense (not in the bad way). People tend to rush and post only things that come to mind. Your post did describe so well the experience and life conditions under programming and development jobs, and your solutions are welcomed. Thanks for sharing!


Great post. One criticism for you is that asking "why am i feeling this way?" Is not usually an effective means of feeling better, if you are sad, stressed, angry etc. Sometimes you can find a useful answer to the question, but usually it is better to engage in an unrelated activity known to bring you joy (i.e. a pleasant distraction).


Good point! I am also trying to switch context if I cannot find the right answer on the question because even if we changed the activity, our brain continues looking for the proper solution.


You mention many important things here, thank you. I would add some extension to the 5th point. Self-reflection is one of the things that we often forgot about, even if a possibility to use it is always with us! Some years ago I decided to leave my old attitude to always do everything for everyone (of course ASAP ;)) and started working smarter instead of working harder. One of the 'friends' I met then is still with me - kanbantool.com and looking at this very simple tool reminds me about what is really important. It wasn't an easy way to feel better with myself but it was totally worth it! More, I also started to pay more attention to sleep enough. It is so important!


Thanks for the fantastic post. Fitness can be challenging when you work remotely. So it is very helpful in my life.


Thank you very much for the feedback! 🙏 Why can fitness be challenging in this case?


Working remotely means don't have to visit anyone. No need to travel, No need to dress properly. No need to walk outside. Just like anything else these perks also have its disadvantages


If you're interested in low carb, check out the keto direct subreddit! Tons of great info on there.


I think the keto diet would be too strict for me 😅


Guten Morgen Ilona,

Here in America, it's about 10 am. As I was reading your blog. It got me thinking of my own life at home and getting my business off the ground. While learning more about my SEO specialist career. I have a full plate of SEO, learning HTML & CSS for my website building, blogging. Even thinking of podcasting, youtube videos to help clients in educating them of website troubleshooting their issues.
The most important thing is health. Americans like to run hard and worry about the side effects later. Fast food, quick eating and drink while on the road. I know for sure I would want to do all of that while driving the Autobahn :) little humor.

Your list is awesome and informative. Your blog posting is not all about computer science and but health is part of that programming we all need to think about every day. Here at simplifiedsolutionseo.com, I will be doing more on my feet for a while and doing my computer work at the same time..Thank you Ilona.


I'm with Victor here but also agree with many of your points. I doubt that the "low carb" fad is a balanced diet, although I agree that sugar is a no-no. The better solution is less processed food, and carbs that are digested slowly, like potatoes or oatmeal or chick-peas. I avoid stuff like white bread and pasta - one gets hungry 1-2 hours after. Cooking food oneself counts as "4. Non-programming activity". It is difficult at the beginning but we software developers are good at improving and optimizing things. I did all this (and still do) as part of a diet to lose weight, and slowly lost about 1/4 of my weight, got my blood values back to normal and I'm keeping that weight also thanks to "1. Daily physical exercise". That exercise has also a positive effect on stress and made me more resilient against all the bullshit bingo that I get exposed during the day.


Great post. This is a topic that is not talked about enough among coders. I am thankful I got into running before I ever started coding. 9 marathons later, still going strong.


You are right, usually most of the time we focus on code and have conversations/discussions about it at work.
Wow! 9 marathons! It's amazing 😃
I wish I got into sport before coding too 😅


Never too late to start. Don't focus on the 9 or even the marathon part. Find a sport you love to do, and it will stay with you forever. The problem most people have is "I have to go to the gym" syndrome. They hate it, it doesn't become routine, it is a chore. Don't make exercise a chore.


I’m lucky enough to work from home most day’s, and have been doing so for the last 17 years. In the early years I made the mistake of letting the fact that I was at home lead me into working more and more, sometimes at ridiculous times. When I found myself getting out of bed at 2am to do an hour of work before going back to bed, I knew I had a problem.

After many experiments I now have a general schedule that I try to follow, which works for me and keeps me productive, fit and sane.

First hour, catch up on email, admin, calls etc. The rest of the morning is for work, either dev, design, project management. I try and work in bursts, around specific tasks, similar to pommodoro. I don’t impose time limits on the bursts, but at the end of each I will get up, walk around, make a drink. Or if a task has taken just a few minutes, I will check the news, read a blog. My aim is to reset my mind by thinking about or doing something else for a few minutes, before I embark on the next task.

I don’t take a scheduled lunch hour, but usually after 3-4 hours I will stop and take the dog for a walk for 45 mins or so and then have a light quick lunch.

When I restart work, I will take typically take 15-30 mins to catch up on emails, calls and then work the rest of the day.

My working day will normally start at 9am, but sometimes earlier, sometimes later. Generally I work an 8 hour day, Monday to Friday and I don’t work outside of those times, ever. In terms of output, a 40 hour week will give me about 30 hours of quality billable development, which I think is an acceptable return, and another 10 hours to run the business. Where I’m working with colleagues on projects I wouldn’t expect more than 30 hours of output per week.

This compares to other times over the years when I’ve naively worked 70-90 hour weeks and probably lucky to be 50% productive, with the quality of the output at sometimes questionable.

Outside of work, I have a hobby which has nothing to do with programming, and I try to go to the gym 3 times a week.

I am lucky in that I get to define my working environment but I know from experience that a disciplined, structured approach is vital. Currently I would say my work life balance is about the best it’s ever been.


Thank you for your great post. We must focus on our life balance before everything for to be ready for every challenges


With the longer evenings, there isn't a reason that you can't fit in a 30 minute walk before getting home. I do this and have been doing it since November, and while I was using it to deal with other life events at the time, I was learning code more efficiently and my eagerness to learn was improving because of it.


Coded. Still alive.

Take breaks, long fun ones. Plan them in.


Jogging at least 3km is what bring mind clearness to me


Thanks for sharing your tips :]

I wanted to add to your dietary tips, that "low carb" is one (the easy?) way to have a more constant bloodsugar level. The necessary sugar needed is then built via gluconeogenesis.

But not everyone is into low carb. So having something like rye whole grain bread for breakfast is also a possibility, since it demands some effort to metabolize that.

The point there is to make sure, your level is somehow constant.

I like your writeup!

What I am struggling the most with is having a constant amout of sleep :D


We all face diverse kinds of challenges on a daily basis, enhancing our resiliency to change and adopt when something goes wrong is a crucial and vital part our life.
recently I've been struggling with work life balance, a lot
what i did to fix things up was establishing some little habits for 3 important times of a day (early morning, afternoon and sunset)
at first it may sound silly that for example having meetings in the afternoon instead of morning have good impact on you
to recap , building resiliency needs CHANGE in little things and integrating them together to create a big change


Thanks for your great post. And these are the ways I stay fit:

  • Minimize my use of elevator
  • Living in a room for rent on the highest floor. The higher the room, the more stairs I climb
  • Do the washing by my hand
  • Stand up and stretch every hour
  • Play football once a week

Thank you for reading and sharing your useful action items to stay fit with us! 🙏


On average women need more sleep than men. That said I still disagree with the sleep thing in terms of quantity. A lot of people that did something, made something, geniuses, slept less than 7 hours. As in other things I think quality is not the quantity even in sleep.


Thanks for your great post. I know...I know...😥


I am happy you liked it! Many thanks!


I don't do much anymore. It's a struggle to get up and out. I appreciate this article. I am looking for motivation and a new leash on life.


Thank you for your comment! It's a struggle to find work-life balance.


The brain and body, like any other machines, need to be operated with care and given regular maintenance. Thank you for the reminder!


Thank you for reading! ☺️


Thank you very much for this post... I appreciate it so much in my life..


It's awesome that you enjoyed it! ☺️


Yeahh! I know I need to have a balance since lately I've been having little annoying headaches every day. Thanks for the post!


I also have had annoying headaches mornings and evenings. That's why I understood that something should be changed in my life.


Much appreciated post. Very important for a healthy work-life.


Thanks a lot for your words! 🙏


OMAD stands for One Meal A Day. Really make sure to eat more vegetables and finally be super happy with that one meal.thats me right there.😋💪


Thank you! 😊


I seriously doubt #5 will make me feel better but the others are good. Probably.


It depends. #5 makes for the long-term better, even if short-term is not comfortable.


thanks a million for sharing


You are welcome! 🙂


Such an essential post to read.

I tend to focus heavily on a non-programming activity and physical fitness. I've got to have a creative outlet in my free time. I love anything that has to do with music composition and production. It's a nice meld of creative and technical skills.

I truly think proper sleep and proper hydration can ultimately lead to a more balanced and healthier lifestyle. If you pictured yourself as a plant, would you be wilting?


Well thought out points on how to improve our mental and physical health. I still have much work to be done, mostly in the sleep aspect.
Thanks so much Ilona for sharing.


thanks for bringing this topic! :)


Wow cool to see someone here that went to the same university as I.

Manchmal ist die Welt echt ein Dorf.

Cool tips btw ;)


Great Post!! Thank you to sharing :)


Thank you for reading and always welcome! 😊


Thanks for sharing theses insights. I will try apply some them.


try a stand up desk :)


Thank you for writing. Note a typo in "becasue" in item 4.


Great one!! Adding to those 5 things, the sixth one which I feel important is to 'Plan your day'.