Colin Lenton"That cardio-circuit-training class at the gym is really working," my husband observed one morning as I was putting on my gym clothes. “Um, no, it's not," I replied. "The truth is, I've been getting this body by watching television."
You see, when my gym recently took my favorite butt-whooping cardio class off the schedule, I was forced to go back to my old cardio-and-strength-training routine. Nothing special, except now, instead of working out with a fitness instructor, I work out with The Real Housewives of New York City. And I'm really seeing results.
Later that morning, I headed to the gym, where I got on my favorite machine—the elliptical trainer. Toward the end of my 45-minute workout session, I realized that I was still two commercial breaks away from finding out which disreputable young woman would get booted from the Rock of Love Bus. Without even thinking, I added an extra 15 minutes on the machine so I could watch until the end of the episode.
Over my next three workouts, I lingered longer on the elliptical to watch E! True Hollywood Story: Anna Nicole Smith, the makeover reveal on What Not to Wear, and the brat's grand entrance on My Super Sweet 16. Add up all those bonus minutes, and I had tacked on an extra hour to my weekly cardio routine in the most counterintuitive, couch-potatoey way possible. It's ironic, yes, but my “secret” to getting in shape is awesomely bad TV.
For years I went to a small no-frills gym. What did it have? Three treadmills, an elliptical, a recumbent bike, a stair-climber, a rack of free weights, and a sad stack of paper cups next to the water fountain. What did it not have? Everything else. Not only did it lack The View, but it didn't have a view—the windows faced an empty parking lot. Making it through 45 minutes of any kind of exercise was always a struggle, especially if I'd forgotten to bring my iPod.
But I've joined a different gym. And now I work out watching Dr. Phil, Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew, and The Doctors, and I never watch the clock—or my heart-rate monitor.
This made me think: Maybe my shows are a little too good at distracting me from my grueling workouts? I asked Vera, a trainer at my gym, if it's possible that too much TV during exercise could actually be bad for me. "Like listening to music, watching TV is passive, so you can enjoy it and still focus on your workout,” she replied. "Reading a book, by contrast, requires more engagement. You have to turn pages, so you're more likely to slow down or get sloppy" … or fall off completely. At my old gym, I once forgot that I was exercising and fell off the elliptical while trying to read a novel. From then on, I only looked at the pictures in trashy tabloids while working out on a machine. But not even the juiciest celeb rag could compete with the superb companionship of TV.
The only downside to my exercise secret was the reaction from my friends. When I told them that watching television motivates me to work out longer, they all looked at me like they wanted to throw something at me. They wondered why anyone would spend more time at the gym than absolutely necessary. But the explanation is simple: Working on a flat stomach in front of a flat screen takes the guilt out of watching guilty pleasures like The Hills. Well, most of the guilt anyway.