What’s the best exercise equipment for 2024? Your brain.

Americans spent $6.1 billion on home fitness equipment in 2022. More than 50 million of us — one in five adults — have fitness club memberships. Garmin, which makes trackers and GPS devices, spent nearly $168 million on advertising in 2022. Google “best fitness equipment,” and you’ll see a slew of ads for products ranging from $649 to $3,499.99.

Amid all the ads, features and noise, there’s one cost-free and always-handy device for achieving fitness that’s often overlooked: your brain.

Your brain is not just the most powerful piece of fitness equipment around, it’s essential fitness equipment. No permanent fitness improvements can be achieved without permanently changing your brain.

Fitness doesn’t come from owning a piece of equipment. Fitness is a mental process, a daily experience, a pattern of behavior, a habit of persistence and patience.

The only essential fitness activity (and the hardest!) is getting started, day in and day out.

If you’re a runner, this means stepping out of the front door. If you’re a weight-lifter, it means bending over to pick up the first weight. If you’re a swimmer, it means putting on your suit.

Unfortunately, there are so many forces trying to keep your mental door to fitness closed and locked.  

Ads tell us to buy a car so we can sit comfortably for 45 minutes to get to work. Friends suggest a glass of wine will make us feel better than a run. A friend invites us to spend Saturday afternoon watching big, padded guys get exercise on TV. Then we watch TV ads that offer to deliver pizza so we don’t have to even walk all the way to the car to drive ourselves to get pizza. (And if we do get up the momentum to drive to get pizza, we pass five places inviting we to sit in the car and have someone hand over a 850-calorie chocolate milk shake plus fries for less than the cost of a piece of organic lettuce.)

We’ve grown up in a world in which technology solves most problems. It’s no surprise that we think that technology is essential to fitness. From childhood, everyone around us has been enchanted by technology and visions of a better future. Next year’s model is always better than last year’s model. We can use a credit card to fix most problems. Obviously, the world says, fitness is something we need to buy rather than a habit we have to build ourselves.

At the same time, the commercial tide pushes hard against the idea that our brains are the only essential fitness equipment. No company is going to buy a big ad on YouTube saying “Use your brain this year!” No fitness conglomerate is going to rent out a 10,000 square-foot warehouse and then light up a big sign outside saying “just $55 / month — come in and flex your brain!” No company runs ads telling us to open the front door, because nobody gets rich when us open the door.

So how to maximize the chances you open the door to fitness? Getting in the right mindset is essential to boosting your fitness. Research shows:

The social aspect of fitness is particularly important. Since you were five-years-old, you’ve wanted to do whatever the people around you do. When your friend ran across the playground to the slide, you tried to run ahead and get there first.