Money might just give you the extra push you need to hit the gym. But it's not earning extra bucks that seems to encourage people to work out more—instead it's the threat of losing your hard-earned cash, according to new research. The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, looked at how monetary incentives can increase physical activity. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania gave 281 overweight and obese participants a daily goal of 7,000 steps, tracked by smartphones.
The participants were split into four groups. For the first 13 weeks, one group was just told they reached they their goal each day, the second group received $1.40 each day they reached their goal, the third group was entered into a lottery with a reward of $100 if they met the goal, and the fourth group got $42 every month, but then had $1.40 taken away every day they didn’t reach the minimum number of steps. For the weeks after, all participants were told if they met their goal or not, but received no reward. After the study, the first group met their goal 30 percent of the time, while the second and third groups met their goals 35 percent of the time. The fourth group had a 45 percent success rate—so the threat of losing money seemed to be a bigger incentive than being rewarded money.
The researchers said they believe that this information can help to shape company-sponsored wellness programs. “Workplace wellness programs aimed at increasing physical activity and other healthy behaviors have also become increasingly popular, but there’s a lack of understanding about how to design incentives within these programs,” lead author Dr. Mitesh S. Patel, an assistant professor of Medicine and Health Care Management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and The Wharton School, said in a release. Our findings suggest that these programs could result in better outcomes if they designed financial incentives based on principles from behavioral economics such as loss aversion.”
If you need to get in shape, but your employer doesn’t offer financial incentives, check out these three apps that could help motivate you:
Pact: Create weekly fitness or eating goals on Pact and set how much you’ll pay out to other Pact members if you don’t meet those goals. Then track your progress with the app—if you meet your goals, you’ll get paid by members who didn’t.
To buy: Free, pactapp.com. For iOS and Android devices.
HealthyWage: Join by yourself or with a group of friends. As an individual you can bet money against your weight loss goals, so if you shed the target pounds, you’ll be rewarded, but if you don’t you’ll lose that money. You can also team up with a group of friends and compete against other teams to win cash.
To buy: Free, healthywage.com. For iOS and Android devices.
Classpass: This service is more like a gym membership and doesn’t offer cash incentives, but you can lose money if you skip out on exercising. Membership includes access to a variety of gyms and fitness classes in your city (and around the world if you’re traveling). If you sign up for a class and don’t cancel through the app or online at least 12 hours prior to the class, you’ll be charged $15; if you don’t cancel at all and are a no-show, you’ll be charged $20.
To buy: $79-$125 (depending on your city), classpass.com. For iOS and Android devices.