You may have been surprised to see the word “exercise” in the same headline as the words “software developer.” But exercise is not just about looking better physically. In reality, regular exercise for software developers can help improve our brain, memory, problem-solving skills, and overall mental agility: things that are rarely talked about but necessary in our daily lives, especially when dealing with complex problems such as developing new components, solving bugs, or even having architectural or difficult meetings.
In this article, I am going to explain the many ways in which physical exercise for software developers is important, provide a list of the cognitive benefits of regular exercise, and show how they can help us become better at our jobs.
Many studies have suggested that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory (the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) are greater in volume in people who exercise versus people who don’t.
“Engaging in a program of regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions,” – says Dr. Scott McGinnis, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School.
What benefits can I get from physical activity?
According to an article published by the University of Iowa, exercise can help develop our brains in a multitude of ways. Researchers at the University found that a single workout could help boost cognitive functions and improve memory. A press release from Cognitive Neuroscience Society also concluded that the effects of physical exercise can add up over time, meaning that if you make a habit of exercising, you will see greater and greater results as time goes by.
Here is a list of several cognitive benefits of regular exercise, and why they are important for software developers:
1. Exercise Improves our memory and thinking skills
Researchers at Whole Brain Health explain that engaging in regular physical exercise can improve neurogenesis in the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that is responsible for learning and memory.
As developers, we have to rely on our memory and thinking skills nearly all day long. We are constantly needing to remember code patterns and changes, tasks, and user stories so that we can solve new problems and remember to raise questions and ideas in meetings. We always need to stay mentally fresh and, as studies have shown, exercise can definitely help us with this.
2. Exercise boosts our cognitive functions
The brain’s cognitive functions are what help us to perform tasks. They allow us to receive, process, and transform information. Since working with information is all we do as software developers, I think we can all agree that it would be a huge advantage if we gave those skills the conditions they need to truly flourish. Exercising regularly helps the brain create new neurons, effectively creating new nodes where information can be processed.
3. Exercise helps reduce stress
Believe it or not, one of the best things you can do after a tough day is a quick workout, as one of the most common benefits of exercise is stress relief. Working up a sweat helps manage both physical and mental stress. Physical activity can actually imitate the effects of stress, effectively helping your body practice overcoming those effects.
4. Exercise improves our mood
Exercise releases endorphins, which creates feelings of happiness and euphoria. And you do not have to exercise constantly to experience a mood boost from working out; even getting 30 minutes of exercise a few times a week can have a huge effect on your overall mood. Since we are constantly interacting and collaborating with others, a good mood can greatly influence our work as software developers.
5. Exercise increases relaxation and lends better sleep
Regular physical activity can help you fall asleep faster. It also increases the quality of sleep you get. For some people, exercise can be the equivalent of a sleeping pill!
When you exercise, you increase your body’s core temperature. When the temperature drops back to normal a few hours later, it signals the body that it is time to sleep.
In our careers as software developers, sleep is a crucial component of our success. Without a good night’s sleep, our work could be impaired by the effects of sleep deprivation, such as memory issues, trouble concentrating, and even a weakened immune system, which could lead to illness and require us to take days off from our work.
So how much exercise do I need?
The answer to this question will be different for everyone. In some studies, it is recommended to engage in 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic activity every week. My recommendation is to exercise at a frequency that makes you feel good, since that is really what it’s all about.
If getting started with an exercise routine sounds overwhelming, keep in mind that starting anywhere is better than not starting at all. Think outside of the box, and try not to worry too much about how you’re exercising. Whether you’re walking alone or with a pet, going for a jog, doing yoga or meditating, going to the gym, or doing a routine you found on YouTube, research shows that all kinds of exercise can be an effective way to manage stress and stay mentally healthy, especially for those of us in careers like software development, which require a high level of mental agility. The important thing is that you find an activity you enjoy and stick with it.