CBS Local — Getting paid to exercise did little to encourage people who just joined a gym — and expected to visit regularly — to stick to their commitment, according to a new study from Case Western Reserve University.
Participants in the study were promised one of three rewards for visiting the gym nine total times throughout six weeks: a $30 Amazon gift card, a prize item — such as a blender, of equivalent value — or a $60 Amazon gift card. A control group received a $30 Amazon gift card regardless of how often they visited.
But 14 percent did not visit the gym again after only the first week.
The incentives also had no lasting effect, as gym visits plateaued after the new gym members stopped receiving reward money.
New gym members who planned to visit three times per week wound up averaging one weekly visit by the end of the six-week period, according to the study. About 95 percent said they expected to visit more than once per week, but only about one-third had actually done so.
“They wanted to exercise regularly, and yet their behavior did not match their intent, even with a reward,” said Mariana Carrera, a professor at Case Western Reserve University and co-author of the study. “People thought earning the incentive would be easy but were way overoptimistic about how often they’d go.”
Even though the researchers deliberately timed the experiment for when people were motivated to exercise enough to purchase a new gym membership, their approach was ineffective in promoting healthy behavior that many Americans fail to obtain.
Only 21 percent of Americans get the weekly recommended amount of exercise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Focusing on people when they’re ready to make a change may be misguided,” Carrera said. “Maybe the internal motivation that gets a person to start a gym membership is unrelated to what drives them to earn financial incentives. What’s clear was there was no complementarity in lumping these two motivations together.”