Need Motivation to Exercise? Look in Your Wallet

Article posted in: Lifestyle

You may have tried looking at Instagram pictures, reading stirring quotes or reciting empowering mantras, but science says that your best motivation to exercise and eat right may be to put your money on the line.

In a study of 281 overweight and obese adults, those who would lose money if they didn’t exercise were 50 percent more likely to comply with their program than those who didn’t put cash at risk, and 28 percent were more likely to comply than those who gained money by sticking to their program.

The study, conducted at the University of Pennsylvania, asked participants to log 7,000 steps or more per day on an activity tracker, and offered them one of four rewards or penalties for complying: One group gained and risked nothing. A second group was entered into a lottery for each day they complied. A third group was given $1.40 for each day they got to 7,000 steps. And a fourth group risked a penalty: For each day they didn’t make their goal, they would be charged $1.40.

Even with a relatively small amount on the table, this money-at-risk group had the greatest success: They completed the 7,000 steps 45 percent of the time, versus 30 percent for the control group and 35-36 percent for the groups that could or would win money.

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You may not be a study subject, but you can give this a shot on your own: Set up two jars in your kitchen—one for complying with your gym or weight loss regimen, and one for when you don’t. Each time you get in your training session or log your food or choose the right foods during a night out, pop a dollar (or quarter or whatever you’re comfortable with) into the “yes” jar; drop the same amount into the “no” jar when you don’t comply.

At the end of each month, use the “yes” jar to treat yourself to some new workout clothes, download some motivating workout tunes, or try an exercise class you’ve been eyeing. Donate the “no” jar to charity: To up the ante, some folks who have tried this even donate the money to a charity they disagree with, increasing their motivation to keep money out of that jar.

If you don’t think you’ll stick with the jar system—or you don’t have cash lying around, or want more accountability—there are apps that can help you do the same. The “Pact” app works just like the UPenn study: Each month, you deposit money into the app, and set a goal for exercise or food logging. When you don’t comply, you lose some of the money. But when you do comply, you get rewards—paid for by other users of the app who haven’t stuck to their program. The weekly rewards can range from 30 cents to $5, so it’s not a huge bet.

The DietBet app also combines the potential penalty for not complying with an incentive if you do stick to your plan, and turns the old “company weight loss” contest into a tech-driven lottery. The app pays teams of people on weight loss programs if they succeed at dropping pounds. Participants start by putting money on the line—usually $25 each. Hundreds and even thousands of people participate, and those who lose the weight they’ve wagered on—usually four percent of their body weight over four weeks—split the pot. Those who don’t lose the weight lose their initial bet.

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If you’d rather gain things than risk losing them, it can also help with your results: In the study, those who could gain the $1.40 per day while risking nothing complied 35 percent of the time compared to 30 percent for those with nothing to lose or gain. While you probably can’t find a benefactor who will pay you to work out—if you do, please let us all in on the secret—you can earn money for charity by exercising: CharityMiles is an app that measures how far you walk, run or bike, and then donates from a corporate-sponsored pool to 30 different charities, including Stand Up to Cancer, the ASPCA and the American Diabetes Association. You just choose your favorite charity and use the app’s tracker—for every mile you move, money will be earmarked for the charity of your choice.

You can also gain something for exercising that has no real monetary value, but might just be fun: The PokemonGO game, which now has tens of millions of users, will “hatch” eggs containing the game’s eponymous monsters when you walk certain distances with the app open. It might not be much, but if the sight of a cute blue turtle popping open gets you moving a little more, it could be worth the battery life it will sap out of your phone. Just be mindful of where you’re walking!