Combining gamification, cash incentive increases veterans’ exercise

Turning goals into a game can increase people’s physical activity. Additionally, financial incentives can be effective, especially when they’re framed in a way where people lose money if they don’t reach their goals. But a new Penn Medicine study adds to evidence that combining the two can result in significant gains.

Closeup of person’s calves, wearing running shoes accompanied with walking sticks.

Researchers affiliated with Penn Medicine’s Center for Health Care Innovation have shown that a group of veterans who were overweight or obese and receiving care from a Philadelphia hospital were able to increase their daily step counts by more than 1,200, on average, when their personalized goals were paired with a game in which they received support from a buddy, all while they stood to potentially lose reward money if they didn’t hit their targets.

The research, believed to be the first of its kind among veterans, is published in JAMA Network Open.

“What our study begins to show is that the combination of varying approaches can be effective, but we need to learn more about the duration and ability to sustain an effect over longer-periods of time,” says the study’s lead author, Anish Agarwal, a clinical innovation manager in the Penn Medicine Center for Digital Health and an assistant professor of Emergency Medicine.

Agarwal says that more research is needed to determine exactly why they got the results they did when research has supported gamification both with and without financial incentives. Their main focus is to increase the intervention time, and, ultimately, achieve longer term changes.

This story is by Frank Otto. Read more at Penn Medicine News.