You know the drill: you want to exercise more, you have grand plans to get up early in the morning for a run or to the gym after work for a spin class and weightlifting – but it rarely happens. Good intentions can quickly go out the window when other obligations or, most likely, excuses come up such as you’d rather hit the snooze button or run errands instead of run workouts. It helps to have incentive – something that keeps you committed to an exercise program and daily routine.
In other words, people exercised more when they were faced with the possibility of losing money.
Often, motivation such as wanting to lose a certain amount of weight, get in shape for an upcoming holiday or play with your kids can be the jumpstart to fitness. Yet, sometimes even that isn’t enough if you aren’t really, truly committed to making changes or getting healthier.
What if you had an incentive that gave you noticeable and immediate repercussions? What if working out and not working out could mean the difference between a higher paycheck and a lower income? For most of us, money and finances are a high area of incentive: it’s why we work – we have to pay the bills, for our house, car and other luxuries in life. Earning more money or risking earning less would certainly light a fire under our weak butt muscles to get those muscles in gear.
More and more employers are taking advantage of this knowledge and using some type of physical activity program to whip their employees into shape according to a recent 2016 study by Patel et al. in the Annals of Internal Medicine. In this study, 281 participants engaged in a 13-week challenge with the goal of achieving 7000 steps per day.
Participants were randomly assigned to either a control or 1 of 3 groups that were given a financial incentive:
- A gain incentive of $1.40 every day the goal was reached;
- A lottery incentive in which participants were eligible to receive a reward if they had reached the daily goal; and
- A loss incentive in which a $1.40 was removed from a monthly allocation of $42 every day the goal was not achieved. Daily feedback was provided for all groups and the control group received no financial incentives.
Results from the study found that there was a 50 percent relative increase in the average number of days subjects reached their exercise and activity goals. In other words, people exercised more when they were faced with the possibility of losing money.
Dr. Mitesh Patel, author of the study and assistant professor at the Perelman School of Medicine says that these findings suggest that framing financial incentives in a way so as to suggest the possibility of losing money can actually motivate people more as they tend to think the money is already theirs once it is allotted.
Another surprising and beneficial finding from the study was the adherence and potential for long-term success. 96 percent of participants stayed with the program until the end! This is in contrast to most exercise programs and goals that dwindle after a few weeks due to poor motivation, excuses or lack of interest.
Dr. Patel hopes that the study findings can help employers and companies introduce new wellness programs that will have staying power and actually encourage people to get fit in a world where obesity is at an all-time high.
Patesh et al. Framing Financial Incentives to Increase Physical Activity Among Overweight and Obese Adults: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. Annals of Internal Medicine; 2016. http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=2491916
CNN Health: Here’s an incentive that really makes people exercise more. http://www.cnn.com/2016/02/17/health/financial-incentive-exercise-goals/index.html