Would You Exercise for Money?

There’s an old saying: Health is better than wealth. But, in a new twist, research has found that people are more likely to get healthy—specifically, exercise more—if they lose money when they don’t exercise. The study was published in the journal Annuals of Internal Medicine and assigned 281 adults, who were overweight or obese, a goal to take 7,000 steps every day for 13 weeks. The participants were split into four groups and each group was assigned to one of the following incentive programs: a gain incentive ($1.40 each day the goal was met), a lottery incentive (a chance to win $1.40 each day the goal was met), a loss incentive ($1.40 deducted from a $42 monthly allowance each day the goal was not met), and no incentive (control group). All of the groups received daily feedback on their progress, and incentives, throughout the 13 weeks. Researchers then followed the participants for another 13 weeks, providing daily feedback on performance but without incentives. At the end of the study, here is what the researchers found:

  • Only the loss-incentive program (losing $1.40 per day) was associated with significantly more days of achieving the goal than the no-incentive program. The loss-incentive group met their daily goal on 45% of the days in the 13 week study period and the no-incentive group met their goal on 30% of the days.
  • During the follow-up period without incentives, all of the groups decreased their daily steps and the number of daily steps was roughly the same across the four different groups.

You might be wondering who would be willing to pay you (or take money from you) to motivate you to exercise. One potential application for these findings is corporate wellness programs: Companies could use similar loss incentive strategies to encourage their employees to get healthy. Or, if you have the self-motivation, you could create an exercise jar (think: swear jar) and pay your dues every day you don’t exercise.

Source: Annals of Internal Medicine

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