Over the weekend the health club where I work switched out its old tube TVs with sleek new flatscreens (we're a little behind the times here in the South). The new TVs look great, but our gym has yet to transition from the old tune-your-radio (?!)-to-this-station-to-get-sound system. No Cardio Theater here. Which means no audio.
I generally like to watch HGTV while I run. Music gets the job done too, but TV can be a really effective distraction from the general suckiness of a cardio workout. Sure, every once in a while I'm in just the right frame of mind, where a certain song will get me "in the zone." Then, I just tune everything out and go. But that's just every once in a while. The rest of the time I need my Design on a Dime.
And that's fine. As a trainer I'm generally aware of how hard I need to push myself to see results, so having something to take my mind off my heart rate of 190 is not a problem. Many people, however, seem to have it backwards. Entertainment comes first, and exercise is the thing they tolerate while they catch up on their reading. But there's a big difference between watching TV while doing sprint intervals and leafing through an issue of People while pedaling idly on the recumbent bike. That difference? One's a workout, and the other...well, you could call it activity. Not fat-burning, heart-strengthening, body-changing activity, but it's moving.
And for some people, that's something. Injured, elderly, or morbidly obese people. The rest of us need to concentrate on getting---ideally---20-plus minutes of interval training. And interval training requires paying attention: to the clock, to changing intensity (whether in speed or resistance), and to how difficult the work is, so that we know when we need to take it up a notch.
If you can do that while reading War and Peace, congratulations---you are an impressive multitasker. Just don't hurt yourself.