The Challenge Behind the 30-Day Well Challenge

By | January 22, 2019

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When some of my colleagues at The New York Times approached me about doing a health program for our readers, I knew immediately what I didn’t want. I didn’t want another impossible fitness program. (Some of us find even the 7-Minute Workout too hard!) I knew I didn’t want a plan that made readers feel guilty about their choices or bad about themselves.

I’ve always believed that living well doesn’t have to be hard — it actually makes us really happy! I wanted to create a wellness program that was simple, easy-to-do and, yes, fun. Since launching Well at The New York Times 11 years ago, I’ve always felt a strong connection with readers and their struggles. I’ve chronicled my own challenges with losing weight, and I find that when I write about something that personally interests me — whether it’s midlife resilience or the power of surrounding yourself with positive people — I discover that readers are usually thinking about the same thing.

So, together with a team including designers, developers and editors, I set out to create a wellness program that I would want to do myself. I thought about doing one nice thing for myself every day that helped me move more, that nourished my body, that connected me with loved ones or refreshed my spirit. In the Well section, we have always taken a holistic approach to health, and our coverage reflects that view. We focus on fitness and nutrition, of course, but we also share science-based information on mindfulness, sleep, family, love and friendships.

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And so the 30-Day Well Challenge was born. Four days a week, the challenge offers simple tasks that help us nourish our bodies, refresh our minds or connect with those we love. The ideas for these challenges came from scientific research and a number of articles we’ve written on those topics over the years. The goal was to distill the science down into actionable advice. Research on happy couples became a challenge to reinvent “date night.” A much-studied meditation technique became a Sunday refresh challenge. Research on mantras, rewards and gratitude (and even chocolate) all became fun, daily challenges for readers who signed up for the program.

And three days a week, we ask readers to take part in a six-minute move challenge. We wanted to give our readers a unique and fun exercise video. We designed the workout with Chris Jordan, the inventor of the famous 7-Minute Workout, with the goal of creating an even simpler, easier workout aimed at building a regular fitness habit. Once we finalized the exercises and structure of the videos, we asked our designers and video team to create them. That’s when the fun began!

Alexandra Eaton, a showrunner in our video department, and Jaspal Riyait, the art director for our Smarter Living group, wanted the stars of these videos to be real women, which led to a casting call.

“We searched for strong, healthy women with a diverse range of athleticism,” said Ms. Riyait. “In the end we found Gillian, our yoga lover; Malia, who has entered the world of high-intensity workouts; and Asmeret, a strong believer in the power of movement and strength, a role model to her two young daughters.”

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One thing we discovered during the casting call is that everyone liked the workout. Most found it to be just challenging enough, although some people wanted the option to modify the workout if needed. So we added some extra tips for readers with mobility issues and suggested they could sub in a workout that works better for them. (There are tips for each workout that can be applied to any exercises.)

The biggest surprise?

“No one loves push-ups!” said Ms. Riyait.


During both the casting call and the video shoot, most of the people we met struggled with correct form while doing push-ups. In the end, we decided this was a plus. Real people struggle with push-ups — they are rarely perfect. Many of us can’t stay straight head to hips doing a push-up. Instead we bend at the hips to make the exercise a little easier. After many conversations with Mr. Jordan, we decided it was O.K. if our push-ups weren’t perfect. Malia nailed hers, but we allowed Asmeret and Gillian — and anyone doing the challenge — to slightly modify the perfect push-up if needed.

To keep the videos visually interesting, we gave Asmeret, Malia and Gillian each a color theme and a wardrobe change for each exercise. Jordy Huinder helped by finding a great variety of workout outfits to create a sophisticated but still playful feel to the video. “The reasoning behind the constant wardrobe changes was to make these videos engaging every time you watched and to inspire all body types,” Ms. Riyait said.

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The actual video shoot was a fun day. Asmeret, Malia and Gillian were all great sports. Everyone on set tried the exercises. Music was pumping and our on-site personal trainer, Mikee Richardson, did a great job keeping everyone motivated.

But the best part of creating the 30-Day Well Challenge has been the tremendous response we have received from our readers.

“I love how short the intervals are (I mostly need gentle inspiration to get started) and how the women used in the videos are healthy and fit looking, but not emaciated,” one reader wrote.

“Thank you for giving me hope and something to work on to improve myself,” said another reader. “Your program feels like a connection with others with a common goal of health.”

I hope after reading this even more readers will do something nice for themselves and try the 30-Day Well Challenge, which starts the Monday after you sign up. (A digital subscription is not required, though you do need to register so we can send you your reminders.) We’ve got some other fun ideas brewing for future challenges, so we would love to get even more feedback!

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