Does offering an incentive to exercise have any effect?

written by Meena Azzollini

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Intending to exercise and sticking with an exercise plan are two different things.

Many people want to exercise but find it hard to stick with their intention.

So, researchers from the Case Western Reserve University, set out to find out if offering an incentive can establish new habits and get them to exercise.

Offering an incentive does not motivate gym goers to visit regularly and stick to their healthy commitment.

The scientists conducted a randomised trial and divided 836 new members of a private gym, who were already intending to attend the gym, into a control group receiving $30 payment unconditionally, or one of the 3 other groups receiving an incentive payment if they attended the gym at least 9 times over their first 6 weeks as members.

The incentives were a $30 Amazon gift card; a prize item, such as a blender, of equivalent value; or a $60 Amazon gift card. The control group received a received a $30 Amazon gift card regardless of how often they visited.

After the first week, 14 per cent did not visit the gym.

Participants offered incentives showed a slight increase in gym visits in the sixth week which was their last week to make enough visits to receive their prize.

But on the whole those incentives only increased the visits by 0.14 visits per week compared to those not promised any incentives.

Almost 95 per cent of the participants said that they intended to visit the gym more than once but by the third month, only about one-third of the participants had visited.

Despite timing the incentives when the participants were more than motivated to visit the gym, did not help them maintain their gym visits and initiate a healthy behaviour.

Offering them a prize or an incentive proved to be ineffective and although it resulted in slightly more visits, the difference was almost insignificant.

A prize or an incentive is great in the beginning, but the only way to stick to your exercise intentions is to include bite-size routines and  actually show up for them.

Source: National Bureau of Economic Research working paper


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Meena Azzollini

Meena is passionate about holistic wellbeing, alternative healing, health and personal power and uses words to craft engaging feature articles to convey her knowledge and passion. She is a freelance writer and content creator from Adelaide, Australia, who draws inspiration from family, travel and her love for books and reading.

A yoga practitioner and a strong believer in positive thinking, Meena is also a mum to a very active young boy. In her spare time, she loves to read and whip up delicious meals. She also loves the smell of freshly made coffee and can’t ever resist a cheesecake. And she gets tickled pink by anything funny!