Audiobooks are the most amazing exercise motivators ever. No joke. I download a book I've been obsessing about, and then I only get to listen to it when I'm actually breaking a sweat. Or at least raising my heart rate. Seriously, some days I have to be pried off the treadmill, and I swear that I'm no fitness fanatic.
But I am a book fanatic, and nothing gets a bibliophile going gangbusters like a great story. I can't tell you how many times I've shown up at work with an epic book hangover, because I read all night. Discovering that this same principle applies to exercising and audiobooks was like a dream come true. Now instead of dreading a run, or a bike ride, or even a strength training session, I actually look forward to it. Yes. I would not lie to you. Recently I was listening to the audiobook of The Girl On the Train and I reached my fastest MPH pace ever because the story was giving me so much anxiety that I just ran it out.
The biggest benefit of listening to audiobooks while raising your heart rate is that you're exercising your body and your mind. Don't hate me, I had to say it, because it's as true as it is corny. Read on for exercise and audiobook pairings that will have you reaching your personal fitness goals in record time.
Listen to mystery and suspense
Raven Black by Ann Cleeves: This taut, carefully plotted crime mystery is the first installment in Cleeves' highly addictive Shetland series featuring detective Jimmy Perez. The atmospheric tension and whodunit suspense will make the treadmill minutes fly by.
Descent by Tim Johnston: Gripping and gut-wrenching, this masterfully planned psychological thriller will you have you pounding the pavement for miles. And just think of those extra calories you'll burn when you have to turn and look over your shoulder every few minutes because you're so creeped out.
The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh: Set in the secluded world of the Ozarks, this dark, deeply disturbing novel about the strength of family ties and the weight of secrets will stick with you long after the last sentence. You're not going to want to stop listening to this one, so get ready to set aside some serious running time.
Night Film by Marisha Pessl: A beautiful young woman is found dead in an abandoned warehouse. It's labeled a suicide, but investigative journalist Scott McGrath isn't so sure. His instincts lead him to the girl's father, a legendary, reclusive, cult-horror filmmaker. So creepy, it'll jack up your heart rate way before you hit your target zone.
Listen to comedy and memoirs (or just a funny memoir)
Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe: Rob Lowe is a brilliant storyteller. Witty, smart, and poignant, his account of growing up in the spotlight is generous and oh-so entertaining. Plus he narrates it. I don’t know what more you could ask for in an audiobook, other than that it make the miles of your bike ride magically melt away, which this one also does, natch.
How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran: I love Caitlin Moran. She makes me laugh so hard I want to pee my pants and teaches me at the same time. Moran narrates this little gem about the glorious, sometimes insane, aspects of being a woman, interwoven with her own personal stories about becoming a wife, a writer, and a mother. As long as you don't laugh so hard you crash and burn you will potentially have some of the most enjoyable, enlightening rides of your life listening to this.
Grace's Guide: The Art of Pretending to Be a Grown-up by Grace Helbig: Anyone who tells you that appearing to be an adult isn't just a skillful act is probably lying. With her characteristic charm and wit Helbig gives us the low-down on how to handle everything from breakups to hangovers like a professional grown-up. You can burn off all those craft-beer calories and learn how to navigate the adult world all at the same time.
For strength training...
Listen to sci-fi and fantasy
The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson: Johnson skillfully brings to life a post-nuclear society that runs on a strange combination of nanotechnology and archaic ritual in this coming-of-age novel. But the the amazing world building is just one of the novel's incredible aspects— she also addresses sexuality, love, art, technology, and tradition. The powerful female characters will inspire you to get serious about your strength training.
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor: This is a fantasy novel set in post-nuclear-holocaust Africa, but it also speaks really powerfully to real-life issues like genocide and famine. Get ready to be seriously motivated by Onyesonwu's journey toward self-discovery and empowerment.
Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler: Butler's incredible novel is all about the power of change. Set against a backdrop of a future America torn apart by violence and drugs, one young woman sets out to change the world through faith and hope. This incredible story will encourage you to have faith in your own ability to change for the better, beginning with just a few more reps.
Red Rising by Pierce Brown: If you love epic, all-encompassing, visionary sagas about the post-apocalyptic future, this is the audiobook for you. Complex characters and a rich, compelling storyline will have you pumping iron and power squatting for hours.
Listen to the classics
Middlemarch by George Eliot: This engrossing, unforgettable classic really helped me get back into some serious, dedicated, nature hikes. Juliet Stevenson's voice lends the story of the idealistic, impassioned Dorothea Brooke and her various small-town contemporaries an unexpected immediacy, so be sure to pick up the unabridged version with her narrating.
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez: There's no wrong way to take in Márquez, but I really loved listening to the story of Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza. Something about the authenticity of the narrator's accent and pronunciation, combined with Márquez's incredible prose, really bring this glorious novel to vibrant life. Listening to it outdoors, particularly in summer, just feels right.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker: Be sure to get the unabridged version with Alice Walker herself narrating, because it's simply incredible. You'll want to be moving while you listen to the haunting, sometimes brutal, sometimes beautiful, story of Celie's life.
White Teeth by Zadie Smith: OK, I know it's fairly modern, but I consider this brilliant, evocative, but ultimately hopeful novel a definite classic. With wit and warmth Smith explores the life of immigrants in London, and the result is a sprawling epic that will accompany you through hours of happy hiking.