Get paid to move?!

Many people practice physical activity on a regular basis. Generally, these people are lucky to have found an activity that they like and enjoy doing. This is called the intrinsic motivation. On the other hand, for many people, it can be a challenge to move on a regular basis. In these cases, one can wonder if paying the person to do physical activity can encourage him to get moving. Studies have looked into the subject and tried to determine if it could be effective to be paid to move!

Moreover, since many companies are implementing incentives to encourage their employees to stay active on a daily basis, it is essential to invest well in order to promote the adoption of healthy lifestyle habits as much as possible.

This is precisely the subject of the following study: A Systematic Review of Financial Incentives for Physical Activity: The Effects on Physical Activity and Related Outcomes.

Two types of incentives were studied:

  • The unconditional incentives are products or services that are given to all participants and that generally serve to reduce the cost of doing physical activity. It could be a gym membership or free clothes, for example.
  • The Rewards are incentives that are given when the subject completes certain tasks. In the studies discussed, rewards were given when the subject completed a certain number of minutes of physical activity, steps, or workouts.

Impact of unconditional incentives on physical activity

Most unconditional incentives were free memberships or free classes at gyms or workouts.

Unsurprisingly, this type of incentive had little or no impact on participants' level of physical activity. Only one study found a positive impact on the amount of physical activity performed, 4 weeks after the start of the intervention. On the other hand, the effect had faded 8 weeks after the start of the intervention.

This is called a short-lived impact!

Does this mean companies should absolutely stop subsidizing employee gym memberships? Not really.

Rather, what the study shows is that it's probably an unnecessary expense if it's the company's only intervention.

Impact of rewards on physical activity level

Some studies rewarded participants for attending physical activity sessions while others gave a reward if a physical activity goal was met.

Studies that rewarded participation in physical activity sessions show a slightly positive impact of this type of incentive. In general, the participants participated more regularly in the supervised sessions, which makes a lot of sense.

However, it generally had little or no impact on the total amount of physical activity performed or on sedentary behaviors. We can therefore think that the participants stopped their usual physical activities to choose instead the physical activities that were rewarded by incentives.

Incentives that reward reaching a certain threshold of physical activity had the greatest impact on lifestyle habits in general, during the period when the incentives were given.

Basically, if you give incentives, you really have to be careful to choose them carefully, because the participants will take the shortest route to obtain them. Thus, it is ideally necessary to choose medium-term rather than very short-term objectives and ideally to reward a process rather than a result.

Care must also be taken with the withdrawal of incentives. Indeed, one study found that after the incentives were removed, participants tended to engage in even less physical activity than at the start of the study.

In summary, if done right, paying people to move can help them increase their level of physical activity. On the other hand, the incentives must be chosen appropriately. Above all, we must help people to enjoy physical activity. This way, behavioral changes are much more lasting!

7 thoughts on “Getting paid to move?!”

  1. Very interesting!
    However, some studies have shown that when an extrinsic motivator is added to someone who is already doing an activity for pleasure, intrinsic motivation tends to decrease, which may explain the "fall" effect when end to reinforcement… (
    Although, for my part… receiving a medal, even just for participation, adds ridiculously much to my pleasure in running! XD

  2. Very interesting as a study. From my point of view if a person needs an external monetary motivation to move it is a waste of time to use this method because physical activity will be perceived as work for which they expect a reward in return. I think maybe people who don't like to move should be seen by their family doctor to find out why they don't like to move because it goes against our nature. A life without wanting to move for me is nonsense. Is it really possible to live in mental and physical health without moving?

  3. This is a very important subject, according to Pierre Lavoie, people's health problems that are due to poor eating habits or insufficient physical activity would occupy 80% of health care ... moreover the use of the automobile is a scourge for the environment and our transport needs to be redesigned… We have a lot of work to do to change all that!

  4. Very interesting to discover the psychology of people who engage in physical activity for reward. Has any particular study ever shown whether these people continue their physical activity after reaching the proposed incentive?


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