"We think of it as a gentle nudge; it's not supposed to be a carrot that we're dangling," says Marc Mitchell. (Credit: iStockphoto)

Would a $5 coupon help you stick to exercise?

Vouchers and coupons—for as little as five dollars—may help people stick to a new fitness regime.

A study involving 1,500 people recovering from cardiac problems suggests that small rewards increase the odds that patients will maintain an active lifestyle in the longer term.

The patients were taking part in a rehab 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 Marc Mitchell, a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto who led the research. “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.”

For the project, patients 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.

The findings will appear in the September online issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

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 a pilot program—is set to begin later this fall.

Source: University of Toronto