How can I stay healthy while spending all day at a computer making video games?

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In this episode of Game Industry Career Guide Podcast, I answer a question from Grzegorz N., who wants to know, how can a video game developer stay healthy while working all day in front of a computer?

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How you can avoid the dreaded “freshman 15”
  • Why your computer workstation setup is a key to staying healthy
  • Why the most impactful thing you can do to stay fit happens when you’re away from your desk
  • Bonus: My favorite and most successful ways to stay fit while working a desk job

Links from this episode

Setting up an ergonomic computer workstation
Video of me doing parkour 🙂

If you have a question you'd like to get answered on the podcast, leave a comment below or ask me anything here.

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Hello and welcome back to the Game Industry Career Guide Podcast. This is Episode No. 10. I’m Jason W. Bay from GameIndustryCareerGuide.com and this is the podcast where I answer your questions about getting a job and growing your career making video games. Today’s question is from Grzegorz N. who sent his question using the Contact form on the website. He says “My question is related to health while working eight hours a day in front of the computer, or sometimes more. Currently I have serious issues with my spine despite the fact that I’m only 21 years old. At the moment I am seeing many doctors, etc. so my future is really unknown right now.” To summarize his question, how can a video game developer stay healthy while working all day in front of a computer?

Well Grzegorz, I’m really sorry to hear that you’re having back issues. I can definitely empathize because I’ve also struggled with back problems for several years. And I’ve worked with a lot of game devs over the years that have had various problems with their backs too. It’s been interesting to see all of the different tactics that people come up with to feel better or at least to avoid feeling worse. I’ve seen everything from using a standing desk to sitting down but sitting on those bouncy blue inflatable Pilates balls, even people that make regular visits to the medical massage clinics or chiropractors.

Now, I’m not a doctor and I’m definitely not qualified to diagnose health issues or to prescribe solutions to your health issues. But I have spent a lot of time working in game studios where we all sit around all day long in front of computers. So I can give you some ideas on what I’ve seen work and then you can do your own research and hopefully even talk to your doctor before you try anything. As you start or continue your job in game development, here are the top three things that I’d suggest you look into to help you stay healthy even when you spend all day in front of a computer.

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For starters, pay attention to what you eat and how much you eat. When I started working full time at my first game studio, it only took me a few short months to pack on an extra 15 pounds. And I wasn’t the only one. It happens to a lot of people when they got their first jobs in games. We even had a name for it. We called it the Freshman 15. What caused that rapid weight gain? Well, it was a combination of several things. Not moving around as much during the week because you’re sitting at the desk all day, coupled with eating more calories thanks to the fully stocked snack kitchen that most game studios offer their employees. Plus when a game team works late many nights for a few weeks before shipping a milestone, the producers often order takeout food from restaurants to feed the game teams.

Now, that’s a bad combination of long hours of no activity plus lots of high calorie snacks and restaurant food. It’s not a good combination if you’re trying not to gain weight. So, what’s a good solution? Well, it might not be easy at first but the best solution might be to put yourself on a no-snack policy. Just don’t eat the snacks at all. Zero tolerance. It will test your willpower because those snacks look delicious, especially around 2:00 p.m. when you’re having your after lunch crash. But your waistline will thank you. Also, if you’ll be working late, you can pack a dinner in addition to packing a lunch. Whatever you bring for dinner is sure to be lower calorie than whatever the producers order for your team.

Okay, the second thing you can do to keep in shape is to make sure your workstation is set up in the most ergonomic possible way. That will help avoid repetitive stress injuries from typing and using a mouse a lot and it will also help to prevent muscle soreness that you can get when you sit for long hours at your desk in a bad posture. For good ergonomics at your workstation the main thing to keep in mind is that when you’re typing, your elbows should be level with your wrists. Also, position your chair to a height that lets your feet rest flat on the floor with your thighs roughly level to the ground. Your monitor should be at a height and distance so that you don’t have to crane your neck into a weird position to view it. It’s hard to explain good ergonomics in a podcast. You really need to see some photos or drawings and it’ll make sense. So do a quick Google search and you’ll find many good resources for setting up your computer workstation ergonomically. I will put a few links in the show notes to get you started in the right direction.

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The third and last thing that I wanted to recommend is something that you do when you’re away from your desk. And that is to exercise. Now, exercise is generally a good thing for most anybody but you always, always need to talk to your doctor before you start a new exercise regimen. That said, there are so many things you could consider for exercise. Anything from jogging to playing sports to taking classes like yoga or doing martial arts. There’s no end to what you could do. The key, and this is my personal secret for staying fit after like 20 years at a desk job, is to find something that you truly enjoy. Something that’s super fun for you and then turn that into a hobby.

There are so many hobbies in this world that are fun, but if you can find a hobby that’s also exercise then it takes all of the hard psychological work out of doing your workout. Instead of dreading exercise every day, you’ll look forward to it. And that means that you’ll keep doing it consistently year after year and it might just be the number one thing that keeps you fit and healthy. Personally, my exercise hobbies are snowboarding in the winter and rock climbing and doing parkour the rest of the year. They’re super fun activities and they help me to stay fit. I love it.

All right. That’s three very good ways that you can stay fit and healthy while also holding down a job at a desk in front of a computer making video games. Eat well. Set your workstation up ergonomically. And get yourself one or two active hobbies. Thanks to Grzegorz N. for the question and thank you for joining me for this podcast. If you like what you heard, why not subscribe in iTunes? It’s free and once you subscribe new episodes just get downloaded to your device automatically and you’ll never miss an episode. It’s like computer magic.

For more information and inspiration on getting and growing your job making video games, swing by my website: GameIndustryCareerGuide.com. I’m Jason W. Bay. Thanks again and I will see you next time right here on the Game Industry Career Guide Podcast.

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