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Cardio Potato
Use Temptation Bundling to do More Cardio

How to become a cardio potato.
How to become a cardio potato.

By Leigh Pujado

Television has never been more exciting or addictive than it is today. Streaming services like Netflix, AmazonPrime, and Hulu have created a culture of binge-watchers who latch onto a series and devour episode after episode like crack cocaine laden chocolates. Admittedly, I am one of those TV binge-watching addicts, but unlike most people who clock hundreds of television viewing hours from their sofas, I stream my favorite shows while doing cardio. That’s right, I’m no couch potato. I’m a cardio potato.

Six times a week, for 45-50 minutes, you can find me huffing and puffing away atop my favorite machine, in the comfort of air conditioning, blissfully watching a serial drama, like “Bloodline” or “Scandal.” If I’m short on time, I’ll put on a sit-com like “The Big Bang Theory” or “How I Met Your Mother,” and run intervals.

It’s hard to believe I spend this much time doing machine cardio indoors, because I used to be an avid road runner. I loved to grab my headphones and hit the road early in the morning, enjoying the dawn sights and scents of my town. Then I took a job working early morning hours, and it became increasingly difficult to get a run in without either getting up at 4 AM or, risking heatstroke after work. So, I began supplementing my road runs with machine cardio.

There were noticeable differences from the beginning between the road and the machine. Immediately I missed the scenery I had enjoyed on my road runs, and I found that I didn’t enjoy listening to music while facing a wall. On the bright side I noticed how shock absorbent the machines were and since my joints seemed to be aging much more rapidly than the rest of me, the cushy treadmill and elliptical were much kinder to my ankles and knees than the pavement. No longer a slave to the weather, I could run whenever I had the time, but, there was still one looming problem: Running on a machine while staring at a wall is mind-numbingly boring!

For a long time, I tried watching regular cable television during my cardio. While it was a little less boring, it was hard to find a show that incentivized climbing onto the machine, let alone a series that had an addictive plotline that would air daily and conveniently during my free time. On machine cardio days, if there was nothing on TV that interested me, I would often just skip my run altogether.

Then along came Netflix instant streaming.

The moment I started tying my iPad to the treadmill, signing in to the gym’s wireless internet, and logging on to Netflix, it was as if someone had put a ring on my finger. I became committed and faithful to my cardio routine. I began to look forward to it and selected my cardio shows based on their got to know what happens next plot lines.

While I refer to myself as a “Cardio Potato,” for binge-watching tv while running, I recently learned that there is an actual scientific name for what I am doing. It’s what Behavioral Economists call “Temptation Bundling.” In essence, I am combining a chore-like activity for which I tend to procrastinate (cardio) with an activity I find both pleasurable and tempting (television.)

The effectiveness of Temptation Bundling, specifically with incentivizing people to exercise, has been studied by the University of Pennsylvania professor Katy Milkman. A few years ago at the height of “The Hunger Games” popularity, Professor Milkman and her colleagues used audio versions of the book (as well as other equally engaging, popular audiobooks) as a commitment device to study exercise program adherence of 226 test subjects over nine weeks. All participants were people who said they desperately wanted to exercise more and the subjects were divided into three groups:

Participants in Group One were given a pre-loaded iPod with the tempting audiobook of their choice. However, they were only allowed to access the book by checking it out at the gym and were told they could only listen to it while exercising.

Group Two participants were given the same pre-loaded iPods but they did not have the restriction of having to check out the iPod at the gym. Rather, they could keep them for the duration of the study and were told to try to only listen to the audiobooks while exercising.

In Group Three, the Control Group, participants were given gift certificates for audiobooks at Barnes and Noble and encouraged to simply go buy an audiobook and try exercising while listening to it.

What Milkman and her team found at the end of nine weeks was that the participants in Group One who had to check out their audiobook at the gym were 51% more likely to exercise than the Control Group. Those in Group Two who had to self-impose the restriction of only listening to the audiobook at the gym were 29% more likely to exercise than Group Three.

You can read Katy Milkman’s research here:

You say “Temptation Bundling,” I say “Cardio Potato.” Whatever you want to call it, I believe it works.

At our personal training center, I am actively encouraging our clients to become Cardio Potatoes. One of our clients, who is a self-described streaming junkie, has blown through the latest season of “Orange is the New Black” as well as the first season of “Mozart in the Jungle” all while peddling away on the recumbent bike. Another client who has dedicated herself to walking on the treadmill to the entire “Mad Men” series, says, “It’s the easiest habit to develop and easiest to maintain when you have something fun to look forward to in addition to maintaining physical and mental health.”

Give it a shot.

  • Select a show that you enjoy watching from a streaming service and make it your exclusive cardio show.
  • Set up a weekly schedule of cardio with specific episodes to watch.
  • Do not allow yourself to watch your cardio show anywhere else but the gym.
  • If you want to know what happens next in your show, you’ll have to move your body!

When the next season of “House of Cards” drops, you’ll know where to find me.

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