Family member’s competition fuels healthy walking habits

Family member’s competition fuels healthy walking habits

If good health isn’t motivation enough to achieve daily walking goals, researchers say a recipe that includes a pinch of behavioral economics, a smartphone and any handy social network might get us there.

Researchers led by a University of Pennsylvania scientist recently designed a simple game to see if they could induce participants to increase their walking. Mobile devices are already ubiquitous and able to track our walking. By themselves, however, they often fail to get us on our feet.

Researchers enlisted 200 adults from 94 families, giving all a phone app and fitness trackers to measure their steps. Families set a daily step goal and each day, a family member was randomly selected to have their steps tracked.

The families were divided into two groups. One lost or received points each day depending on whether they achieved walking goals. The other tracked steps but did not play the game.

Successful families achieved higher levels, getting a coffee mug if they reached specific levels such a platinum or gold.

Over the course of 12 weeks, researchers found families increased their walking by 1,700 steps daily, just shy of one mile, compared with those in the nongaming control group.

Some apps already exist to get folks to exercise more frequently, but this study’s authors say design is critical. And that’s where some apps fall short.

Researchers say they designed their game using a behavioral economics theory that relies on social incentives, accountability and peer support. Similar games could be designed to use many kinds of social networks, from work groups to circles of friends on Facebook.

So, the lesson here is: Play together, be healthy together.

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