Finding a workout routine that you like is only half the battle. Once you have it, you have to stick to a regular exercise schedule. A new “mega-study” tested a variety of methods for getting gym members to go to the gym and work out.
It turns out that just a few simple elements were required to influence participants' behavior. But those interventions weren't the ones that experts predicted would work!
We'll take a look at this mega-study and you'll find out what sort of incentives and tactics most effectively motivated people to workout.
A “Mega-Study” Of Workout Motivation Interventions
A new study published in the journal Nature is calling itself a “mega-study.” It's the result of 54 different studies conducted at the same time, among the same population, so that the results can be directly compared. Researchers applied the approach to compare different interventions designed to help people keep up with their workout routine.
The studies included 61,293 members of an American fitness chain and were designed and carried out by 30 scientists from 14 different universities in the United States. The 54 four-week digital programs encouraged participants to consistently follow through with their plans to workout. Each program used a different intervention, and recorded its rate of success at getting participants to the gym.1
Then the researchers crunched the data to determine which of the interventions were most effective at encouraging participants to workout.
This mega-study consisted of 54 different studies conducted simultaneously among the same population. More than 60,000 participants followed four-week programs designed to encourage them to stick with their workout plans. In the end, researchers compared the results to see which interventions were most effective.
The Study Results
The basic structure of all of the interventions had three components: plan, remind, and reward. Participants set up a workout plan with specific dates and times to work out. Then they received a reminder via text or email about their plan. If they followed through with their plan they received some form of reward for each workout they completed.
Ultimately, 45% of the interventions increased participants' weekly gym visits by anywhere from 9% to 27% during the course of the four-week period.1
The most effective program offered extra rewards for returning to the gym after missing a single workout.
Another way that researchers motivated exercise was called “temptation bundling.” This method takes something the participant enjoys and makes it available only when they're exercising. It could be watching a favorite show or listening to a favorite song or audiobook.
These support structures were effective, but when the study ended and the programs were taken away, people only retained about 30% of their new habits. Only 8% of programs achieved measurable changes that lasted beyond the period of the intervention.1
Each of the studies had three components: plan, remind, and reward. Participants set workout plans, got reminders, and received rewards for following through. Forty-five percent of interventions were effective.
How To Apply These Findings
Weight-bearing exercise stimulates the growth of new bone mass. That makes it essential for reversing and preventing osteoporosis. Thanks to this study, we now know the most effective ways to motivate ourselves to stick to our workout plan.
Set up a plan, remind, and reward structure for yourself. Choose specific times when you'll work out, then set up an automatic reminder on your phone, digital calendar, or email provider.
Then comes the fun part. Decide on a reward. Many of the interventions in the study used money as a reward structure– often as little as 22 cents per workout session. You could set aside a certain amount of money for each workout to spend on a special treat. You could also give yourself points for each workout. Then pick a desirable activity that you'll only do once you've earned a certain number of points.
Remember to use the most effective method from the study. If you miss a workout, make the following workout worth a little more in whatever system you devise.
You can also use temptation bundling. Simply decide what bit of media you know interests you, and then dedicate yourself to only watching or listening while you do your workouts.
Most importantly, once you see results, stick with it. Don't let the structure you've built for yourself fade away, or else you might lose your new habit along with it.
Create a plan, remind, and reward structure for yourself. Remember to make the session after a missed session worth a little extra. And keep your structure in place– that way you'll keep benefiting from it.
What This Means To You
You can influence your own behavior to help develop bone-healthy habits like regular exercise.
These study authors had one more piece of critical advice– make sure you enjoy the workout you do. People don't stick with things they don't enjoy. That's why Save Institute created SaveTrainer. It provides a wide variety of physical activities and workouts at customizable levels of difficulty. That allows you to find the workout you truly enjoy, led by a professional trainer you like coming back to.
If you've been struggling to stick to your workout plan– enjoyment is one element you might be missing. Healthy habits shouldn't be a burden, so keep experimenting until you find a routine you genuinely enjoy.