nerd-buffEverybody knows the stereotype: When you think of a computer geek, the image that comes to mind isn’t that of a Charles Atlas bodybuilder or a curvy centerfold model. Sitting in front of a monitor all day doesn’t usually impart a healthy glow to the skin and too often, the only exercise we get is running our fingers over the keyboard at 90 wpm (we can boast of svelte and muscular fingers, at least). The typical diet of late night delivery junk food doesn’t help, either.

In the movies, the “computer guy” has often been portrayed as either the overweight slob who overdoses on pizza while hacking into the Pentagon’s computers or as the skinny, wimpy guy with big glasses who gets sand kicked in his face on the beach but saves the world from certain destruction by cracking the passcodes to divert the enemy missiles at the last minute.  Stereotypes become stereotypes because there’s an element of truth in them, but this one is becoming less and less accurate – and that’s a good thing.

It is true, in my observation and experience, that computer aficionados tend to focus more on developing the brain than developing brawn – at least in their younger days. However, I’ve noticed a subtle but definite trend among middle-aged IT pros over the last two to three years. Many of my friends in the industry who used to be at their computers munching on Chinese takeout and puffing on cigarettes all day (and most of the night) are now diving headlong into the fitness craze.

They’re walking, running, biking and lifting weights. They’re trading in the pale complexions born of endless hours in the glow of a 27 inch monitor (or three) for a tan that comes from spending time in the great outdoors.  They’ve given up the burgers and fries in favor of juicing and protein powder and veggie snacks. They’ve quit smoking and they’re losing weight and looking healthier than they did when they were in their 20s.

But it’s not as if they’ve kicked the techie habit. Instead of trading in the cancer sticks for patches and gum, they’re using e-cigs in keeping with their gadget-oriented nature. They’re also using modern technology to help count their calories, track their runs and get them in shape.

Actually, I should be saying “we” instead of “they.” Those who met me at MVP Summits and TechEds and other various conferences between 2000 and 2009 know that there was, to put it nicely, a lot more of me to love back then. Being chained to the chair in front of a computer screen for up to 16 hours a day had packed on the pounds, helped along by a taste for Italian food and a genetic tendency to gain weight that had me fighting the battle of the bulge all my life just like my dad and my grandmother before me.

Then five years ago, I decided I wanted to feel good again, and embarked on a diet and exercise program that brought me back down to 118 pounds over the course of two years. There was nothing magical about what I did. It’s the same plan that always works: eat less and move more. But back when I was dieting decades ago, keeping up with the calories was a lot more difficult, especially when eating out. What makes it so much easier now is an app called MyFitnessPal, which goes everywhere with me on my phone and has an incredible database that includes both fresh foods and many of the dishes from popular restaurants. Who knew, before we were able to tap into the Internet everywhere, that a Caesar salad had twice as many calories as a black bean enchilada?

I run MyFitnessPal on my Android phones and log onto the MFP web site on my PC to track my calories every single day. That’s how I’ve maintained within a few pounds of my ideal weight for several years now. The app is also available for iOS, Blackberry and Windows Phone.

Another app I used extensively in my weight loss journey was Runkeeper, which is only available for Android and iOS. It uses GPS to track your walks, runs, bike trips, etc. and gives you detailed information and records on how far you go, speed, and calories burned, even taking into consideration the incline of the terrain.  You can set it to notify you via voice of your progress (for instance, every 10 minutes or every ½ mile). You can set it to automatically pause when it senses that you’ve stopped, so as not to skew the overall speed calculation.  I use it to track my walks but you can also enter your other exercises, such as stationery bike, treadmill, elliptical, etc. MyFitnessPal also has a place to enter your exercise so I use it to record in-gym exercise and transfer my walk info from Runkeeper to it.

There are many other exercise tracking apps out there. Many of my friends use MapMyFitness, and Samsung and other vendors have their own health apps that come with newer phones. The nice thing about most of these apps is that they’re “social” apps. You can friend people or set up “teams” within the app to share your eating and exercise info, thus establishing a network of people who encourage each other (and/or compete) to help motivate you. Most also will post your info automatically to Facebook if you choose. I find myself much less likely to skip a workout or blow my calorie allocation for the day when I know many of my friends are “watching.”

My husband saw my results and in the last couple of years has joined the fitness bandwagon, too. Tom stopped smoking over ten years ago, and gained a good deal of weight afterward. Now he’s eating healthier and riding the recumbent bike every day while I work out beside him on the elliptical. We also use technology to make that time more pleasant. We have a 42 inch flat screen TV in the room that doubles as our exercise room and server room, but most of the time, we’re both reading eBooks – he on his Surface RT and me on my 7 inch Galaxy Tab – while we sweat our way through an exercise session.

The really cool thing is that we aren’t alone in this endeavor.  Everywhere I look, I see posts on social sites from IT pro friends, talking about their runs or weight lifting or other fitness efforts. Literally dozens of the “big guys” I knew as fellow tech book authors have gotten lean and mean lately. One of Tom’s co-workers at Microsoft has lost over 100 pounds and is now competing in bodybuilding events. Several of our long-time IT friends are now running marathons.

Maybe it’s because we’ve reached “a certain age” and have already started losing some from our ranks and have opened our eyes to our own mortality that so many of us are now doing all we can to postpone the inevitable. Maybe it’s because many of us have achieved a financial status that enables us to enjoy life more and we want to be around to do that. Whatever the reasons, we’re slowly but surely destroying the old stereotypes of what a geek should look like.  It still requires a lot of hard work, but today’s technology makes it a little easier.