Books have always been my first love, and exercise is quickly climbing the ranks. Imagine my glee, then, when I read in the May issue of Shape that a study out of the University of Pennsylvania discovered audiobooks are a powerful motivator for getting to the gym. According to an article from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania published in 2013, the study, led by Katherine Milkman, a professor at the school, was born from Milkman’s own experience in which she restricted listening to certain audiobooks solely to the gym. She dubbed this method of pairing pleasurable activities with chores “temptation bundling” and tested out her audiobook program on others. The result? Study participants in the group that had their audiobook usage strictly confined to the gym had an attendance rate 51 percent higher than the control group.
My love for podcasts has been growing over the past year or so, and audiobooks seem to be the natural extension of that. It turns out that, along with podcasts, there are many free audiobooks available online for your listening pleasure, and both types of audio entertainment offer compelling storytelling that will keep you engaged while you work out and excited to go back for more. They also make it easy to experiment with temptation bundling by providing the option to download a few chapters or episodes at a time as opposed to having unlimited access.
Open Culture, a portal for free arts and educational resources, is a gold mine for bookish types looking to take their fiction on the run. Their database, consisting of hundreds of free audiobooks, contains links to classics such as The Awakening by Kate Chopin and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, among others. The books are available in various formats, but I prefer the podcast setup of the classic novels available on iTunes, in which each chapter of a novel is a separate podcast.
Short story lovers will find plenty here as well. Links abound to brilliant shorts such as Neil Gaiman’s “How To Talk to Girls at Parties” as well as MP3s of The New Yorker magazine’s monthly Fiction podcast, a fantastic choice for sampling some of the most noted authors in literary fiction. Authors choose short stories published in The New Yorker to read, followed by a discussion of the work. Episodes include Junot Díaz reading Edwidge Dandicat’s “Water Child” and Lauren Groff reading Alice Munro’s “Axis.”
You don’t have to limit yourself to strictly books. Radio plays are coming back into vogue, with Welcome to Night Vale, a speculative fiction soap opera, leading the pack. Each episode is a news broadcast from Night Vale, a creepy small town where PTA meetings are interrupted by dinosaurs and a sandstorm may cause you to meet your doppelgänger from an even creepier town. Cecil, the voice of Night Vale, is the disc jockey of your dreams, soothing you through your workout with updates on the town and its residents, including Cecil’s crush, Carlos the Scientist. Welcome to Night Vale is wonderfully addictive, managing to be creepy, absurd and endearing all at once.
Some of the best audio drama comes from nonfiction storytelling podcasts. Keep in mind, these stories are intended for an adult audience.
The Moth, a storytelling institution, features stories usually centered on a particular theme and performed in front of a live audience. I have had the pleasure of attending a production of The Moth, and the podcast maintains the spirit of being there in person, whether the episode is a special recording of a full live show, a curated collection of stories from various performances or shorter stories from its StorySLAM events. The performers are incredibly skilled at conveying a range of emotions in a single story. Your cardio session will go by in a flash.
The Mortified Podcast involves performers sharing documentation of their awkward youth such as journals, love letters and terrible poetry (not that I would know anything about that). Also, the podcast’s sign off, “We are freaks, we are fragile and we all survived,” will make you want to thrust your fist in the air after your workout à la Judd Nelson at the end of The Breakfast Club.
One more thing: please exercise caution when listening to these engrossing books and stories. They are great for the gym but not such a good idea in high-traffic areas. Use sound judgment, and be safe.
Are there any podcasts or audiobooks you like listening to while working out? Comment below and tell us all about them!