It’s no secret that sticking to an exercise routine requires a great amount of motivation. Forget about the fact that exercising is incredibly important to maintaining a healthy body. Shouldn’t that be enough? The truth of the matter is that the majority of Americans (80%) don’t get the recommended amount of aerobic and muscle-building exercise.
Yet Americans are known for working hard. They work more than anyone in the industrial world. Americans take fewer vacations, work longer hours, and even retire later than any other country. So with such an impressive work ethic, why doesn’t all this hard work translate to the same amount when it comes to working toward a healthier body?
The answer is obvious.
We live in a society where money rules, so it’s no wonder American’s work hard in order to pay the bills, but not so hard when it comes to exercise. People don’t typically get paid to exercise, and it’s easy to skip the gym when Netflix is calling, especially when there is no monetary reward.
But what if people did get paid to exercise? It’s not hard to imagine that a lot more of us would have chiseled physiques. It happens that a group of researches wondered the same thing and decided to put it to the test. Mitesh Patel, MD, assistant professor of medicine and health care management at the Perelman School of Medicine and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and his team rounded up 281 participants and set them up with 1 of 3 incentive programs to reach a daily goal of 7000 steps: a gain incentive ($1.40 given each day the goal was achieved), a lottery incentive (eligibility to win $1.40 each day the goal was achieved), or a loss incentive ($42 paid upfront and $1.40 removed every day the goal was not achieved). Participants’ daily steps were then tracked for 13 weeks and the results were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
It turns out that what’s even more motivating than gaining money is having it taken away.
The people in the gain incentive program and the lottery incentive program met the daily goal about 30% to 35% of the time. Interestingly, however, those in the loss incentive program met the goal 45% of the time. “We saw dramatically different results when the same amount of money was framed as a loss as opposed to having it framed as a gain,” says Dr Patel.
It makes sense that people are more motivated by incentives that provide instant gratification such as money, but the threat of losing something already in the pocket is far more motivating than gaining something never had.
Companies can take advantage of the results of the study to develop incentive-based employee wellness programs, and some already have. StickK.com asks employees and users to sign commitment contracts to meet different goals from losing weight to quitting smoking. Members are then charged a fine when they fail to live up to their expectations. One of the company’s most successful models is the anti-charity model. For example, if a member believes in gun control, their money will go to the National Rifle Association if they don’t meet their goal.
Using money as a motivator may be the answer to America’s obesity problem, especially when there is a threat of losing it. More companies should use Dr Patel’s research to develop their own system of motivation. What do they have to lose, besides weight?
Oaklander M. This is the best way to get people to exercise. Time website. February 17, 2016. http://time.com/4226640/exercise-workout-fitness-incentives. Accessed March 10, 2016.
Patel M. et al. Framing financial incentives to increase physical activity among overweight and obese Adults: A randomized, controlled trial. Ann Intern Med. 2016; Feb 16. [Epub ahead of print]