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Our favorite news story ever!

In the news 

Can’t stay on track? Calendar highlights motivation

Pamela LeBlanc, Austin American-Statesman

April 26, 2004

I’m tracking my fitness in a new calendar.

You should see it. I’ve colored all over it with a pack of highlighters—a swatch of green here, a patch of pink there, little blobs of blue and neon orange stripes. It’s addictive.

It’s called the Streaming Colors Fitness calendar, and it helps you keep track of almost anything, whether you’re just getting started or you’re an accomplished athlete. You can set it up to monitor any exercise or dietary steps you might take. And you can change it every month. 

Last month, I used green for a swim team practice, pink for riding my bike to work, red for jogging (ack! not much red on my calendar), orange for taking a multivitamin and purple for skipping processed white bread. This month I added blue for flossing my teeth. 

Each calendar day is a rectangle divided into four main blocks. For each activity, I fill in the appropriate color. There’s even a row of little dots to color in—one for each 8-ounce glass of water. The idea is to have as much color on your calendar as possible. 

You can make it as hard or as easy as you want. Some suggestions—from filling in blocks for alcohol-free days, smoke-free days or doughnut-free days—are printed inside the calendar. There’s space at the end of each week to tally up your activities.

I keep the calendar open on my desk at work. My co-workers poke fun at it. But silly as it sounds, the lure of filling in those little blocks has encouraged me to drink more water, log more miles on the hike-and-bike trail, and add a fourth swim team practice each week. And I can’t stand the thought of a day with no color at all, so I’m out digging in the garden or walking the dog on days I’d normally be kicked back on the couch with my cats piled on top of me. 

“It’s simple, but powerful,” said Jennifer Luhrs, 54, the Minnesota woman who developed the calendar.

Luhrs has always been interested in nutrition. About eight years ago, while working as a writer for an online health Web site, she got interested in what it takes to change someone’s behavior. About that time, she also noticed she was starting to gain the hard-to-shed weight that comes with middle age. She began running and exercising more.

One day, she decided she wanted to track her exercise sessions. She used a yellow marker to indicate she had gone for a jog, and pink to signify aerobics. She also jotted down her weight. 

“I started noticing if I had a couple days without color on my calendar, I would actually do something just so I could fill in the color. That’s when I realized, “This is changing my behavior, motivating me to do this,” Luhrs said. She started tracking all kinds of habits, and keeping the journals so she could look back at her progress.

“I found if I hit a rough patch, if I didn’t have time to exercise, I’d look at those calendars and it would inspire me to get back on track. I was very aware it was working for me,” she said. Luhrs showed the journal to her daughter, who started keeping her own journal. They talked about marketing a calendar, but worried about the financial risk. 

A few years later, when she read about a study that showed one in three children born after the year 2000 will develop Type II diabetes, she decided it was time to make the calendars. “That was a shocking statistic for me,” she said.

Her long-term goal, she says, is to develop things to improve children’s health and fitness. “That’s where a big crisis is looming,” she said. “But you have to start with adults, because they’re the ones setting the example.”

This year’s calendar is available only by ordering online, at www.streamingcolors.com. Luhrs says the 2005 version will be available at bookstores nationwide. It comes in small and large sizes, and sells for $13.95 and $16.95 respectively. Highlighters are also available on the Web site for $12.95. 

I’m always trying to think of new habits I can track on my calendar—and looking forward to the month on my calendar where there’s not a bit of white on the whole page.

pleblanc{at}statesman.com