Media Releases

Can financial incentives inspire exercise?

September 19, 2013

TORONTO, ON — When it comes to stick­ing to an exer­cise plan, we’re all look­ing for solu­tions to ensure that new healthy habits trans­form into long-term lifestyle changes.

PhD can­di­date Marc Mitchell has pub­lished find­ings in the Sep­tem­ber online issue of the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Pre­ven­tive Med­i­cine sug­gest­ing that receiv­ing coupons and vouch­ers for as lit­tle as five dol­lars can help peo­ple stick to new fit­ness regimes.

Under the guid­ance of Pro­fes­sors Jack Good­man and Guy Faulkn­er, Mitchell has com­plet­ed a sys­tem­at­ic review of research into the effi­ca­cy of finan­cial incen­tives in inspir­ing lifestyle and health behav­iour change, specif­i­cal­ly in peo­ple who’ve expe­ri­enced car­diac prob­lems. His analy­sis sug­gests that these small rewards increase the odds that patients will main­tain an active lifestyle in the longer term.

Mitchel­l’s project looked specif­i­cal­ly at 1500 patients as they tran­si­tioned out of Toronto’s Rehab’s car­diac pro­gram, designed to help peo­ple with heart dis­ease improve their strength and fit­ness to reduce their chances of future heart prob­lems.

“Patients do great dur­ing the six-month pro­gram,” observes Mitchell. “But a lot of them stop exer­cis­ing after they leave. The idea is to offer a mod­est incen­tive to facil­i­tate that tran­si­tion to inde­pen­dent exer­cise.” In the mod­el that Mitchell is work­ing on, patients will receive these incen­tives after sub­mit­ting their dai­ly exer­cise logs, through an online por­tal called, “BestLif­eR­e­ward­ed.”

Dur­ing the sec­ond phase of his project, Mitchell led patient focus groups to deter­mine which types of incen­tives res­onate most with the car­diac rehab patients. Many liked the idea of receiv­ing park­ing vouch­ers to sup­ple­ment their cost­ly trips to the hos­pi­tal, while oth­ers pre­ferred gro­cery store vouch­ers or a chance to donate their incen­tive to a char­i­ty of their choice.

Mitchell pre­dicts that the act of sub­mit­ting the entries will serve as a step­ping stone to devel­op­ing increased aware­ness and con­tin­ued patient engage­ment.

“If they sub­mit an emp­ty entry, they’ll still get the incen­tive,” he explains. “Just doing that will con­tin­ue to encour­age them to self-mon­i­tor. We think of it as a gen­tle nudge; it’s not sup­posed to be a car­rot that we’re dan­gling.”

The final stage of the project – the launch of the pilot pro­gram – is set to begin lat­er this fall.


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