My wife had been a keen customer of the local women’s-only gym for several years, so after last Christmas, when they closed down and re-opened as a unisex establishment, I decided to go along, too. Nine months later, I’m still among the regulars, dragging my aging body along four or five times a week to run, walk, cycle, stretch, row and pump iron. What keeps me going, apart from my iron will and rigid determination? Well, a lot of the credit has to go to e-books.

Let me explain: The gym, like most public areas these days, is festooned with big TV screens. A couple of these now show a news channel, but at the time I started they were all, without exception, tuned to MTV. Using an exercise bike or a treadmill in front of a blank wall is merely boring; but doing it day after day in front of clips of the latest fourteen-year-old pop idols, interspersed with ads for acne preparations and ab-crunching devices for the home, is more than flesh and blood can stand. If I was going to last the distance, I desperately needed an alternative.

But what? Some customers use an MP3 player with earphones, but for me to hear anything over the relentless noise of rap beats, it would have to be turned up dangerously loud. I tried bringing in paper books, but most of them wouldn’t stay open, and it’s difficult to accurately turn a page when you’re jogging along at eighty steps per minute. So at last I thought of my Android tablets, and—after a little experimentation—I find they do the job nicely.

Here are my observations, if you want to try it for yourself.

The best books for gym reading tend to be relatively simple and episodic. I can get through one-and-a-half of the Father Brown stories by Chesterton in a single session, for instance. Large collections of novels like the Gryce detective stories by Anna Katharine Green are good too, because you know you’re not going to run out of reading matter halfway through your reps.

Seven-inch tablets fit better in a gym bag and on a treadmill shelf than ten-inch. They also allow you to see the time and other information on the treadmill display panel while you’re reading. You will need a silicone cover or sticky pad for the back to stop the e-reader from sliding sideways as you pound rubber—I now keep one of these in my gym bag. Either your e-reader or your water bottle—preferably both—should travel in a leakproof case. Check to make sure your device is charged and functional before you pack it.

With respect to software, PDFs are generally too small to read comfortably at the required distance, but Kindle for Android is ideal, because I can turn pages with a swipe, and quickly change the font size when the reading distance changes as I go from one machine to another. I intersperse sessions on the aerobic machines, where I can read, with weights sessions during which I can’t. And I haven’t yet found a way to turn pages with my nose while I do push-ups, but I’m working on it.

So there’s my secret. A carefully-chosen combination of hardware and software can make even a daily dose of Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga bearable.

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  1. Recently, I was sick with something that forced me to be flat in bed for several days. I felt too rotten to read and was unable to head to the library for audio books. I turned on TTS for my Kindle with Keyboard and let it read books to me in the dark. That worked marvelously.

    Listening is also much better than reading when you’re exercising because you’re not having to concentrate on a page that constantly moving around. There’s a lake near my apartment where I often walk. Since the path doesn’t cross any streets, at first I tried reading books as I walked, but I found that was very slow due to distractions and that bouncing page. It also didn’t help that I got a lot of stares.

    So I turned to audio. First I went to audio books on cassette tapes from a public library and then to podcasts on an iPod touch/iPhone. That was much better and allows my eyes to rest on the trees and the lake, making my exercise also relaxing.

    Those who’re looking for audio books might want to check out a professional reader who has a free audio book podcast of classical tales and sells others at very good prices. The free podcast (about 45 minutes a week) is called Classic Tales and is in iTunes. The audio books are at:

    The list of authors that he’s done is a Who’s Who of the best 19th and early 20th century writers. They provide excellent entertainment for about $1 an hour. And for the record, I have no ties to him other than as a satisfied listener.

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