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Though appearing unrelated, diet and exercise is an often overlooked and potentially necessary component for the success of designers, artists, and programmers. Take a 15 minute break and do some Vanyasas, forget the platitudes and look at the advantages.

Andrew Calhoun, Blogger

February 1, 2011

6 Min Read

It may seem horribly off-topic for a site like Gamasutra, but in the new year, I had decided to get myself back into shape. I am not going to endorse any fitness plans or try to advertise, as diet, nutrition, and fitness are an extremely personal thing. Recently, I was introduced to P90X by a friend and have been doing the program.

Keep in mind, I started in average shape and will immediately state that this particular program is not for everyone: It's rough, time consuming and difficult but I am seeing results in areas that go far beyond my physique. Mental clarity, focus, and expenditure of nervous energy into a constructive activity has helped me achieve artistic and technical gains in my chosen crafts. This has created a twice fold improvement in my productivity in the very limited hours, especially during the week that i can spend studying and practicing matte painting, art, and C-based programming for classes, portfolio building, and personal enjoyment.

Friends and relatives of mine in the entertainment and other industries have extolled to me the benefits of being in proper shape, though as currently an IT professional, I did not really see the need to exercise beyond a couple of miles of running every couple of days. While this did it's job by keeping me at a stable weight, I realized I needed to start eating better and working out, including plyometrics, practical weight training (strengthening muscle and bone, without adding excess bulk) and even yoga to get back to the shape I was in during High School and early years of college/university. Heading into my late 20, it has become increasingly evident that I simply cannot eat whatever I want and lounge about while doing a couple of hours of exercise a week and stay "battle-ready" so to speak.

After a couple of weeks, I started to notice i got less distracted during painting or doing problem sets for my courses and I retained more of what I learned and practiced. This has been a frequently cited benefit of exercise for years, yet there is a stereotype of game designers being doughy, lazy, junk food fueled slobs. Fortunately, this seems to be a fading trend as gaming has broken into the mainstream and even includes attractive women as spokespeople.

On the other hand, the image of the lazy, obsessive, and socially maladjusted maladroits remains the perceived image in the rank and file by many. I also understand that game development often requires hours upon hours of work. However, there might be something to be said of clearing an hour from the schedule, even for light isometric or other exercises, or just down time to clear ones mind. Like I stated before, the clarity has allowed me to focus, because all of the garbage of the do-its, woulda-coulda-shouldas, and what other stuff we have to worry about.

I'm not sure about what facilities are available at individual sites, but even doing some low impact, subtle movements in ones cubicle or work area can relieve a lot of personal tension and improve overall productivity. I knew who in my group regularly exercised and who was a couch potato at places I studied and worked, by the basis of the quality of their work and general tolerance for frustration.

When I personally don't exercise, I can tell. I become churlish, do not sleep as well, and become a bit more aggressive and short tempered. After exercise, I am more positively assertive and relaxed and tolerant. This is the case for many, and yes, sweat and the strain on muscles are often unpleasant, especially at first, but after a short while, the body begins to crave it.

Speaking of craving, proper eating is essential. A banana and cup of hot tea or coffee are preferable snacks over a piece of pizza or a chocolate bar. There are practical considerations afoot as always, but it might behoove studios and individuals to either cater healthier alternatives or bring in their own food, especially during crunch time.

The primary benefit of good nutrition is avoiding insulin spikes which can later cause crashes, sluggishness, and the desire to nap after meals. I am sure we have all been there, where we had a big lunch or dinner, and the first instinct about 30 mintes later is nap time. It is horrible trying to concentrate during these periods and I found my productivity in general flagged. Once I made positive changes in my diet, replacing candy with fruits, veggies, and complex carb snacks and ensuring my meals are lean proteins, good carbs and fats ( not to say I don't love a good burger or pizza :9 ) -- especially when the workload is demanding has helped me push through crunches or emergencies while my coworkers, friends, and colleagues run off to get a bag of chips or candy bar and soda to get their energy spike.

Now, what does this have to do with game development you might ask? We have all heard the horrors of Crunch, and other high stress times where people have heart attacks, marriages implode, people work for 48 hours straight (which reminds me... SLEEP, even if it's just for 4 hours) ... And how it often results in problematic work failures, mistakes, overlooked bugs, etc. I see it in my own job, and those of us who have industry, non-industry, and adjacent careers have no doubt seen similar cases.

Overstressed, under-exercised, and malnourished workers make more mistakes. Taylorism (wiki it, it's interesting) being the norm for work in the globalized world has caused a lot of us to overlook things that serve as a necessary counterbalance, simply due to perceived inconveniences. However, if efficiency is lost because of exhaustion, malnutrition, and lack of physical activity, then the model falls apart.

And on exhaustion, I'm talking about nervous and stress related exhaustion. The kind that keeps you up at night and haunts your dreams. Physical exhaustion is a different animal, and the far more desirable of the two, though not without his unpleasant aspects, but at least when physically exhausted, you can generally fall asleep. Which is also critical. Ever try to work after being sleep deprived for several days? It's not pretty.

It could be said this is a call for positive lifestyle change. I look at it more as a survival tool and mechanism, but by no means am I a guru who claims he can save the industry. All i am saying is: Productive, healthy workers produce better products, and in turn develop a reputation for quality, thus providing impetus to purchase the product by consumers (though this is not guaranteed), which can in turn improve quality of life and business, by adding something as simple as making a few dietary changes and adding a bit of exercise, even if its just stretching. It helps to relieve stress and tension and just might make tough times a bit easier to power through.

So, for the tl;dr crowd: exercise at least 20-30 minutes a day, even if its light, trade refined sugar and fried snacks for fruits and complex carbs, eat healthy, nutritious meals, try to get some sleep and love the one you're with. At least in this writers humble opinion, it really helps take the edge off stress.

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