I'm notorious among my friends for being an early-morning exerciser—you know, the annoying person who bounces right out of bed before the alarm goes off (I have never hit the snooze button in my life), jumps into her running shoes, and is out the door for a run, swim, or bike ride before Matt Lauer is into his first cup of coffee. Now, though, I'm recovering from various injuries and taking a break from heavy training, and I've discovered the joys of sleeping past 7:30 and putting off my workouts until my lunch break. The trouble is, I usually end up putting them off until after work, and then until the next day, when the entire cycle repeats itself.
I won't lie; it's been really, really nice to relax. But now that I'm putting down the hammer and getting back into a workout routine, I'm finding that it can be hard to motivate myself to actually, you know, work out. So I decided to check out whether technology offers any better answers than simply putting a Post-it on my computer.
Using text messaging, phone messages, and E-mail to motivate people to better health behavior is a hot topic, it turns out. Researchers in Scotland, for example, are using a test-messaging system called Sweet Talk to remind teens with type 1 diabetes to take their insulin. Text messages have also been used to remind people to take their medications and help them quit smoking and have been studied to follow up with bulimia patients.
To motivate yourself, try an online calendar, like Google Calendar, that you can program to remind yourself to work out. Or send a delayed E-mail message to yourself, an option available in some E-mail programs, including Microsoft Outlook. Or use a Web-based service to remind yourself via text messages or E-mail; Google Calendar and OhDontForget.com both allow you to program in text messages to yourself.
But if you need a reason to exercise, not just a reminder, you may require a bit more than an automated message. (Sweet Talk alone didn't improve blood sugar levels in the absence of intensive insulin therapy, while the bulimics studied found the automated messages were impersonal.) In that case, it's a personal touch that may matter most. Researchers at Ohio State University Medical Center are studying postmenopausal women who are overweight and don't exercise, thus putting them at higher risk for breast cancer. They're giving each woman a pedometer and a goal of working up to 10,000 steps a day. But one group of women in the 12-week study will get daily automated voice messages reminding them to work out, while the other will get both voice messages and calls from a real live person—a coach. The hypothesis is that the ones who speak to a real person will better stick to their goals (and possibly prevent cancer).
Personal trainers and coaches have already cottoned on to this idea. Tom Holland, a Darien, Conn.-based exercise physiologist who coaches and trains people ranging from Ironman triathletes to fitness newbies, says one of his clients is trying to lose weight as her main goal. "I send her a little message every day when she's not expecting it," he says. "It may just say 'You can do it,' but it really, really works. It shows that someone took time out and is thinking about them and is on their side." And Sherri McMillan, who with her husband owns Northwest Personal Training in Vancouver, Wash., and Portland, Ore., says she sends group E-mails after teaching her weekly indoor cycling class—congratulating those who made it and affectionately ribbing those who didn't.
I'm experimenting with Google Calendar for the reminders. And for face-to-face motivation, I've instructed my boyfriend to harass me to go running at least every other day, while he's told me to make sure he plays basketball at least as often. I'll tell you how it goes. Got a great way—high-tech or low—of reminding or motivating yourself to work out? Please share it.