Older adults walk more for money and opportunity to donate to charity

January 13, 2017

Personal and social goals may be effective in motivating older adults to exercise, according to a study this month in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine from researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Although numerous studies have demonstrated significant health benefits from walking - including decreased risk of heart disease, obesity, hypertension, and premature mortality - fewer than half of all adults achieve recommended levels of physical activity. Adults 65 and older are least likely to be physically active. In a 16 week period, both financial incentives and opportunity to donate to charity increased walking in older adults, by 2,348 steps and 2,562 steps per day, respectfully.

The study provided 94 adults aged 65 and older (whom were determined healthy enough and had an interest in beginning a program) with a digital pedometer, walking goals, and weekly feedback on their progress. The adults were randomized into four groups: a control (received weekly feedback only), financial incentives (received payment of $20 each week walking goals were met), a social goal group (received a $20 donation to a charity of choice each week walking goals were met); and a combined group (received $20 each week walking goals were met that could be received by participant, donated to a charity of choice, or divided between the participant and charity).

During the 16 week intervention period, the number of days in which goals were met was higher in all groups compared to controls, therefore showing that financial incentives, charitable donations and both together all increased the amount and retention of increased amounts of walking. When the incentive period ended after 16 weeks, all groups dropped down to walking levels seen in the .

At baseline, participants walked 4,556 steps per day. Walking goals were a 50 percent increase in steps. Average daily steps counts during the intervention were 1,046 steps higher than baseline in the control group, 2,348 steps higher than baseline in the financial incentives group, 2,562 steps greater than baseline in the social goals group, and 1,692.80 higher than baseline in the combined group.

"Our research finds that goals are a valuable tactic in helping older adults live a healthy lifestyle," said Karen Glanz, PhD, MPH, George A. Weiss University professor in the Perelman School of Medicine and the Penn School of Nursing, director of the UPenn Prevention Research Center and professor in the Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics and Penn School of Nursing. She co-led the study with Jason Karlawish, MD, a professor of Medicine, Medical Ethics and Health Policy, and Neurology, who noted that "walking is safe, free, and readily available - making these intervention initiatives a sustainable way to better health."

In the combined group who were given the option between keeping their personal financial incentives or donating them, participants were more likely to keep their earnings than to share them.

This study is among the first few studies looking at the effectiveness of in improving health behavior in older adults, and helps address some limitations of earlier studies, but the authors acknowledge that this research also has its limitations. This Penn study looked at a population that walks regularly, and included predominantly well educated, white women in good health. Authors note that future studies are needed to evaluate what types of incentives are most effective for more representative groups of , and how to maintain increases in walking over the long term.

Explore further: Friendly competition and a financial incentive increases team exercise

More information: Kristin A. Harkins et al, A Trial of Financial and Social Incentives to Increase Older Adults' Walking, American Journal of Preventive Medicine (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2016.11.011

Related Stories

Friendly competition and a financial incentive increases team exercise

July 15, 2016
Would having your exercise performance compared to that of your peers motivate you do more? A new study suggests it might. And adding a financial incentive would only sweeten the deal even more. Comparing performance to average ...

Association between steps, functional decline in older hospitalized patients

December 5, 2016
Is walking fewer than 900 steps per day associated with functional decline in older hospitalized patients? A new research letter published online by JAMA Internal Medicine suggests it is.

Social media and activity feedback give no more benefit than simpler strategies

October 3, 2016
Providing physically inactive adults access to online social networking about walking as well as personalized feedback did not add more benefit than just providing emailed tips, according to Penn State College of Medicine ...

To increase group exercise, study suggests rewarding the individual and the team

March 15, 2016
Financial incentives aimed at increasing physical activity among teams are most effective when the incentives are rewarded for a combination of individual and team performance, according to new research from the Perelman ...

Using a pedometer ups leisure walking time for older adults

July 16, 2012
(HealthDay) -- Compared with time-based physical activity goals, using a pedometer to measure steps increases leisure walking time, even a year after the initial intervention, according to a study published in the May/June ...

Pokemon Go moderately improves physical activity among adults; but effect was not sustained beyond 6 weeks

December 13, 2016
Pokémon Go improves physical activity among adults who use the game, but the effect is moderate and not sustained over time, finds a study published in The BMJ Christmas issue this week.

Recommended for you

Breathing dirty air may harm kidneys, study finds

September 21, 2017
Outdoor air pollution has long been linked to major health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. A new study now adds kidney disease to the list, according to ...

Excess dietary manganese promotes staph heart infection

September 21, 2017
Too much dietary manganese—an essential trace mineral found in leafy green vegetables, fruits and nuts—promotes infection of the heart by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus ("staph").

Being active saves lives whether a gym workout, walking to work or washing the floor

September 21, 2017
Physical activity of any kind can prevent heart disease and death, says a large international study involving more than 130,000 people from 17 countries published this week in The Lancet.

Frequent blood donations safe for some, but not all

September 21, 2017
(HealthDay)—Some people may safely donate blood as often as every eight weeks—but that may not be a healthy choice for all, a new study suggests.

Higher manganese levels in children correlate with lower IQ scores, study finds

September 21, 2017
A study led by environmental health researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine finds that children in East Liverpool, Ohio with higher levels of Manganese (Mn) had lower IQ scores. The research appears ...

Higher levels of fluoride in pregnant woman linked to lower intelligence in their children

September 20, 2017
Fluoride in the urine of pregnant women shows a correlation with lower measures of intelligence in their children, according to University of Toronto researchers who conducted the first study of its kind and size to examine ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.