You can’t even pay people to go to the gym, study finds

CLEVELAND — Self-motivation to exercise regularly can be a lofty challenge for folks who aren’t gym rats. Now a new study finds that being paid to work out isn’t even incentive enough to  get people to lace up their sneakers.

Researchers at Case Western University in Ohio recruited 836 new gym members for a study on how financial incentives could spur one to exercise at their facility more often. Participants, excluding those in a control group, were asked to visit their gym nine times over the course over six weeks to receive a small reward.

Weight rack at gym
While only a fifth of Americans enjoy the recommended amount of physical activity, a new study finds that you can’t even pay people to get to the gym regularly.

The three rewards promised included a $30 Amazon gift card, a useful appliance (e.g., a household blender), and a $60 Amazon gift card. Those in the control group received a $30 Amazon gift card, regardless of their exercise habits.

Researchers found that the rewards only increased one’s likelihood to visit the gym by just 0.14 visits a week, with a slight bump during the sixth and final week.

In fact, the value of the incentive to be received had no tangible effect on one’s likelihood to visit the gym.

“Maybe the internal motivation that gets a person to start a gym membership is unrelated to what drives them to earn financial incentives,” speculates Mariana Carrera, the study’s co-author, in a news release. “What’s clear was there was no complementarity in lumping these two motivations together.”

It should be noted that participants expressed wanting to visit their local fitness club three times a week at the start of the study, which would have been double of what was required to obtain a financial incentive.

In practice, only a third of participants actually visited the gym even once a week.

Considering how only a fifth of Americans get in the recommended amount of physical activity, perhaps a new motivator to exercise will have to be sought.

The study’s findings were published last month in the National Bureau of Economic Research.


  1. Maybe the reward wasn’t high enough? I work out regularly but a blender wouldn’t get me to change my work out habits, up or down.

  2. Vanity and the ability to out perform most people keeps me going to the gym, riding my bicycle, etc. At 80, it gives me quite a boost to be able to out perform most people who are much younger. A reward of a few dollars would make no difference.

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