Can’t Buy Me Health: Money Won’t Make People Exercise

This business of trying to encourage, cajole, beg, and bribe people to change unhealthy lifestyles is no jog in the park. The Philadelphia Inquire reports on a study in which new gym members were offered money or a gift to go to the gym nine times in six weeks and attendance only increased slightly.  


The study, by the National Bureau of Economic Research, looked at 863 members of a private gym who were divided into a control group and three incentive groups. The incentives were $30, $60, or a gift worth about $30.


“These incentive programs did increase slightly how often people went, but only by about one visit, and then it really has no lasting impact,” Justin Sydnor, one of the report’s authors and a risk-management and insurance professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, tells the newspaper. Doubling the incentive from $30 to $60 did not improve the outcome.


On average, participants planned on exercising three days a week, but that didn’t happen. “Instead of three times, they went twice in the first week and were down to once a week by the end of the second month,” the Inquirer reports.


People usually join gyms when they are psyched to change their lives, but that motivation doesn’t last long, says Sydnor. “At a moment of peak motivation, we join gyms, spend money, engage in a bunch of things thinking that our future selves will be similarly motivated,” says Sydnor. “But then the challenge of actually showing up to the gym when you’re busy, and the weather’s bad outside, and you’re feeling a little tired and there’s other social options to do—all of those things get in the way in a way that we don’t anticipate very well.”


Source: Philadelphia Inquirer