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NPR: 4 Ways To Make Your Workout Actually Fun, According to Behavioral Scientists

From NPR: Last December, Michael Garcia started going to his local Dave & Buster’s in Gaithersburg, Md., to play an arcade game called Pump It UpPlayers move their bodies to the rhythm of the music as colored arrows light up on a platform beneath their feet. As the levels advance, the beats get faster and more complicated. Before long, Garcia, 26, was hooked. He used to play the game for just an hour or two a week – but these days, he’s just as likely to play all day. “Saturday, I stayed here for 8 hours,” he says. “I even brought a packed lunch with me just so I could keep going.” Garcia says he started to see positive changes in his body. He was losing weight and feeling more fit than he’d been in a long time. But the thing was – when he played Pump It Up, he never felt like he was working out. Why was that? Turns out there’s a whole field of research dedicated to this question: fitness gamification. It’s about “trying to make things we want to do that are typically tedious and boring [like exercise] – and finding ways of making them fun,” says Dr. Mitesh Patel, a researcher of this topic and head of the behavioral insights team at the health care group Ascension. Games like Pump It Up are enjoyable, he says, because it takes things that make games addictive – points, levels and challenges, for example – and melds them with physical movement. This powerful combination motivates people to keep on playing … and exercising. The good news is that we can take these techniques and apply them to our everyday fitness routines. Life Kit talks to Patel and Elizabeth Lyons, associate professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch who studies how gamification can motivate exercise in older women, about how to make exercise feel as fun as a video game. Listen to the episode at NPR.