Audiobooks During Exercise

Audiobooks during exerciseAs a follow-up to our previous post about the benefits of Multiple Positives, here we will explore one specific combination: audio-learning during exercise.

Opportunities for Multiple Positives

I previously described how certain physical activities, such as household chores, provide a perfect opportunity for using audio-learning as a multiple positive – increasing the productivity of our time.   What about exercise and other forms of physical activity?  Bike rides, walks, long runs, yardwork – these are all excellent situations where you could choose to listen to an audiobook or lecture.

Benefits of Audiobooks During Exercise

For long distance running, I find audiobooks very helpful.  Focusing on the content of the audio takes my mind off the distance and feelings of discomfort or fatigue.  In general, though, the primary benefit is that many routines offer us an opportunity to exercise our mind while we are exercising our body.

Speaking of focus, you may ask “doesn’t exercise + audiobooks result in lower quality learning time than just reading or just listening?”

Yes, perhaps.  There are certainly moments of distraction.  Compared to sitting down to read a book, though, audiobooks often require much less dedicated time.  Many of us can easily listen to an entire audiobook (unabridged!) during the course of a single week just by listening while exercising and commuting.  By comparison, many of us would never have time to sit down and read an entire book each week, every week.

If you are concerned about quality learning time, keep in mind that audiobooks often allow for more quantity learning time – which makes up for any lack of quality.  How?  By allowing you time to listen more than once – whether you listen to the entire audiobook multiple times (“reading” it again) or by repeating a specific chapter.  This repetition has its own benefits on learning, allowing you to catch what you missed earlier while reinforcing what you already learned.

Keep in mind that audiobooks are not the only sources of audio material available to you.  There are audiobooks, audio magazines, audio newspapers, university lectures, speeches, seminars, language lessons and more – all available to you (often for free!).

Negatives of Audiobooks During Exercise

Granted, there are some situations where audiobooks during exercise may not be ideal.  For example, I occasionally find it distracting during strength training;  sometimes loosing count of my reps due to the audio.  ”How many reps am I up to now?  Was that 7 or 8?”

In addition, studies have shown benefits of listening to music while doing certain types of exercise – providing the motivation (drive) to hammer out more reps or more weight – so you may need to experiment with audiobooks vs music to see which situations work for you.

Audiobooks While Running – A Multiple Positives Case Study:

As mentioned earlier, my preferred combination of Multiple Positives is listening to audiobooks while I do long distance runs.  During this past summer, these runs peaked at about 17 or 18 miles, once per weekend, with shorter runs throughout the week.  Since I live in rural northwest Iowa, these runs consisted of many country miles on flat, empty, gravel roads.  Audiobooks provided a number of benefits:

  • Combination of learning and running
  • Distraction from the boredom of long country miles
  • Distraction from the discomforts of a long run
  • Distraction from the mental doubts of a long run

Instead of lapsing into thoughts about how tired I was, or whether I should go for another 4 mile loop, I could focus on the audio content and put my mind (and body) on auto-pilot.  The downside?  By the end of a long run, my ability to absorb knowledge while listening had often eroded quite badly.  But as you’ll read below, repetition allowed me to make up for those times of poor focus.

What did I listen to?  I spent my runs listening to audio language lessons by Pimsleur, purchased through  For my single, monthly credit, I would purchase a set of 5 lessons (~30 minutes per lesson).  Then I would have one month (4 weeks with 3-4 hours per week) to listen to, re-listen, and learn the content of those 5 lessons.  By the time I received my next monthly credit, I was ready to advance to the next 5 lessons.


Some of you may already watch the news while you are at the fitness center – audio materials provide the same benefit, but with more control over the content than what is offered on tv.  Given the breadth of audio materials currently available on the internet, there is something both interesting and educational for almost everyone.  There are some situations where the quality of learning may be low, and other times where audio may prove distracting to your workout – but listening to audiobooks is a positive overall strategy that you can use to increase your productivity, improve yourself, and get more out of life.

I don’t listen to audiobooks during all of my different exercise routines – but I listen to audio material during many of them and consider it an incredible productivity boost.  Your mileage may vary, but it is worth a try!

What is your experience listening to audiobooks while exercising?  Success or waste of time?  Leave your comments below!


Image credit:  Photo above courtesy of


  1. [...] November 29, 2012 By Mark Bosma Leave a Comment I recently posted my thoughts on the use of audiobooks during exercise, and other forms of Multiple Positives.  For anybody wanting to get into audiobooks, this post [...]

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