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Tune In, Tone Up: How Watching TV Can Help Your Workout

01/15/2014 at 12:03 PM ET

Harley Pasternak
Getty; Inset: Courtesy Harley Pasternak

Harley Pasternak is a celebrity trainer and nutrition expert who has worked with stars from Halle Berry and Lady Gaga to Robert Pattinson and Robert Downey Jr. He’s also a New York Times best-selling author, with titles including The Body Reset Diet and The 5-Factor Diet. Tweet him @harleypasternak.

Exercise is boring.

Let me clarify: Specifically, cardio can be boring.

If I had a penny for every time I asked a client to stay after a workout to do cardio and they had to “urgently get something from their car” (only to never return), I’d be rich. Or at least I’d have a lot of pennies.

Cardio, or aerobic exercise, is usually long (relative to resistance exercise), repetitive and uneventful. Picture yourself walking on a treadmill staring at a wall. Imagine feeling every step, every yard, every second.

Alternatively, imagine yourself watching your favorite TV show. You love the characters. You’re laughing at the jokes and having blast. Schmidt just said something funny to Cece or Walter White just threatened Jesse Pinkman. Now imagine doing a little physical activity while this is happening. Better than the first treadmill scenario, isn’t it?

The scientific community has amassed a great deal of research supporting the benefits of entertainment while you work out. A study out of the University of North Carolina found watching a video while doing cardio significantly lowered your rate of perceived exertion (i.e. it made exercise feel much easier). And the more distractions, the better: Another study found those who exercised while listening to music and watching a personal television (with 62 changeable channels) completed longer exercise sessions than those who only listened to music or only watched television (with 4 non changeable channels).

Perhaps that explains why spinning became so popular. There is usually great music and an entertaining instructor.

Here are my best tips on how to distract yourself during your next cardio workout:

Listen to Music. There was a time when I proudly wore my Sony Walkman (with auto reverse) to the gym. These days, everyone can play music from their cell phones (how old do I sound?). Spotify and Pandora are great for working out. For cardio, try a station with fast dance music to pump you up — you may find yourself moving to the beat. But no matter what you listen to, as long as you like it, you will probably exercise harder and for more time. For more, check out my blog post on the best music for your workout.

Read a Book or Magazine. Some of us still love the paper versions of books and magazines. For the rest of you, tablets (Kindle, iPad, Note) are the perfect cardio tool. You can bring hundreds of magazines and books with you to help you zone out on the stationary cycle.

One of my favorite clients, Alden, actually brings the heaviest (both in weight and subject matter) books to our workouts and ends up doing more cardio because he gets lost in the words. Many of my female clients, including my wife, find fashion and entertainment magazines the perfect cardio distraction. Read a copy of PEOPLE cover to cover during your workout and by the end, you’ll have burned about 320 calories!

Watch TV. This is where a Netflix membership comes in handy. No commercial breaks, you can stream through your phone or tablet, and you can go from one episode right into the next (this has led me to do incredibly long cardio sessions without even realizing it).

I tell my clients to do this all the time. After following following my advice to find an exciting show to make her look forward to her cardio, Jessica Simpson tweeted this:

Play video games.

Many years ago, Life Fitness collaborated with Nintendo and built in games like Super Mario Brothers on stationary cycles. Sadly they were ahead of their time and it didn’t catch on. Today, the reverse has found success. You can play video games like Zumba, Dance Central, and even my game, Hollywood Workout, while burning tons of calories (without even realizing it).

Bring an entertaining friend. Remember, though, there is no “off” switch!

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Showing 3 comments

sandra on

Why bother doing cardio if you can read or watch your favorite show, just a time waster, you need to work it baby!

Maria on

I have my stationary bike and treadmill in my basement in front of my TV. I do a 5K run/walk while watching TV (walk during the show so I can pay attention to it, run during the 3 minute commercial breaks.) Good way to get fit and still get your TV fix in!

rlb237 on

I call it multi-tasking!

(Also, like we’re supposed to believe Harley ISN’T rich?! Ha!)

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