Opinion: Are Exercise Streaks Healthy?
I love to exercise: walking, running, CrossFit, cycling, and everything in between. As it’s one of my favorite ways to spend my free time, I carve out time most days to do it. Some days are intense, some days are light. I can honestly say that some days I just exercise so that I can listen to Kanye West on my headphones.
Am I compulsive? Sort of. But can I take a day off? Definitely. For me, exercise is one of my favorite ways to unwind. I almost always exercise in a social setting (CrossFit being the most social), and I love to laugh with people when I’m working out. In that way, it kills two birds with one stone: I’m hanging out with friends, and I’m exercising at the same time. I schedule rest days from exercise on days when I know that my schedule is over-filled with professional or family activities.
When I was in my early twenties, I don’t think that I ever took a day off from exercising. I didn’t have kids. I didn’t have a career. I didn’t have a mortgage. The world was my fitness oyster.
Nowadays, my schedule and responsibilities make it pretty much impossible not to take at least some days off. I mean, who in their forties with two kids and a career has that much disposable time?
I recently came across an article in the Wall Street Journal about a small, but growing group of runners known as “streak runners.” These are people, as defined by the National Streak Running Association, who commit to running at least one mile on every single calendar day. That is, they resolve to run every single day of the year.
Let me just say this: I find this group of athletes fascinating. Not because they’re physically capable of running every day but because they thrive on establishing and maintaining a personal streak. If you go on the National Streak Running Association website, it’s page after page of personal stories of athletes who haven’t missed a single day of running in 20-plus years. It’s individuals who ran after delivering babies, ran after undergoing major surgery, ran at 11:55 p.m. in order to get a run in on a particular calendar day. It’s simultaneously impressive and perplexing. It raises questions like: Don’t these runners ever get sick? Have they never been injured? Don’t they ever just dial up a Netflix binge and hang out on the couch?
My recent interest in this group of runners has led me to telling anyone and everyone near me about streak runners. One particularly athletic friend of mine said, “Let’s try streak running for 30 days!” I quickly responded, “Oh fun! Definitely!” We shook hands to seal the deal.
And that’s when the reality of what that would mean set in. I started thinking about the logistics of committing to running every single day, and my chest began to feel tight. I felt panicked as I flipped through my mental calendar, trying to squeeze a run in on every single day.
My mind started racing:
“How would I fully taper for the Hot Chocolate 15K?”
“What about the night when my daughter has her school play? Am I supposed to run in the dark?”
“Do I have to run in the rain?”
“What if my foot hurts?”
I could find no satisfying answers to these questions so I withdrew from the challenge. The idea of forcing myself to maintain an exercise streak made me feel stressed. Rather than looking forward to my daily runs, I started to feel trapped and obligated. For me, the idea of maintaining a streak felt like fitness handcuffs. While I would be proud to survive the 30-day challenge, I knew that I would be a neurotic wreck trying to plan my runs.
So I’m happy I bailed. Instead, I’ll just stick to laughing with my friends at CrossFit, training for the Broad Street Run when the weather is nice, and listening to Kanye West at full volume.
What do you think? Are exercise streaks helpful for establishing momentum in your fitness routine? Is there a benefit to publicly announcing a plan to maintain a daily exercise streak? Share in the comments below.
Lauren Napolitano, Psy.D., is a licensed psychologist on staff at Bryn Mawr Hospital and in private practice in Bryn Mawr, PA. To learn more about her practice, go here. And to read more of Lauren’s posts for Be Well Philly, head over here.