While commuting for job training to Philadelphia last summer, Laura Mansky Miller began listening to audiobooks on her car stereo to pass the time during the 21/2-hour drive from her home in Old Bethpage.
"You can kind of get obsessed with a book," says Miller, 48, who works for a digital marketing agency. "I started listening to them when I was working, especially if it was a book I really liked."
Now six months later, Miller listens to books on her iPod at home while she's on the elliptical machine. "It definitely helps the time pass quicker," said Miller, who trains four to five times a week, for about 40 minutes per session. "If it's a day when I'm having trouble getting motivated, that's the carrot at the end of the stick. I'll say to myself, 'Do the workout, but you can listen to your book.' "
The idea of diverting your attention away from exercise is what sport psychologists call "disassociation," and it has been shown to be effective for shifting focus away from physical fatigue. Music, conversation with an exercise partner and audiobooks can be effective stimuli for this.
A recent study done on tennis players suggests another benefit: Subjects who listened to emotionally charged music recorded faster reaction times in their games. "What it's saying is that songs with strong lyrical affirmations . . . staying strong, never giving up . . . can give an athlete a mental boost when things get tough, perhaps more so than a fast song," explains Greg Chertok, a sport psychology consultant in upstate New City. "If an emotionally charged message in a song can motivate somebody, I can only imagine that a very intriguing, captivating book with a strong theme or a very powerful message can have the same effect."
Of course, what captivates one reader -- or listener -- sufficiently to make the treadmill miles roll effortlessly is not necessarily the same for all. Miller, who gets her digital books from the Nassau County Library system, says the books that engage her on the elliptical "run the gamut. I've listened to everything from a biography of Abigail Adams to the latest Oprah book."
Stella Davie, 43, is more selective about the audio books she listens to when she walks her dogs, Thurman, a beagle, and Happy, a redtick coonhound, on the wooded bike path near her Massapequa home. Davie likes biographies or memoirs, "because with books like that, you can get away with missing a few details." The book she says she most enjoyed during her brisk, 40- to 60-minute walks was Bill Bryson's "A Walk in the Woods," about the author's comical attempts to hike the Appalachian Trail. Except she was spooked by the chapter where Bryson wakes up to what may have been bears prowling around his campsite in the middle of the night.
"All of a sudden I'm looking over my shoulder for a bear," Davie says. "In Massapequa." But, she adds, "it certainly made me walk faster!"
This month, the book publishing company Macmillan is promoting the use of audiobooks while exercise. Its "Listen While You Work Out" website includes audiobook samples, a calorie burning chart, a listening/training log, and other features. www.macmillanaudio.com/workout.