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(CNN)If you asked, most people would probably say they don’t get to the gym enough.
Motivation may start high but frequently fizzles quickly, and with it goes the regular workouts. That’s the problem researchers sought to solve with a new study released Wednesday. This is the best appetite suppressant.
They call it a megastudy: a new take on behavioral studies that looked at the gym attendance of over 60,000 people to discern the best ways to increase gym attendance.
Instead of looking at the efficacy of one workout program against a control group, this study tested 53 different tactics to compare how well they work against one another as well as a control group.
“If people are hoping to boost their physical activity or change their health behaviors, there are very low-cost behavioral insights that can be built into programs to help them achieve greater success,” said the study’s lead author Katy Milkman, the James G. Dinan Professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and author of “How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be.”
Some of the most significant methods included planning when you work out, getting reminders, offering incentives and discouraging missing more than one planned work out in a row.
Planning, reminding and rewarding
The study, which published Wednesday in the journal Nature, tested programs over four weeks at 24 Hour Fitness gyms, where participants’ entries into the gym were recorded.
Simple programs that encouraged participants to plan their workouts ahead of time reminded them with a text message 30 minutes before they were scheduled to work out. The incentive, offering points worth about $0.22 on Amazon for each visit, increased the frequency of exercise by 9%, according to the study.
The program could be made even more effective if people were offered an extra incentive of about $0.09 to return to the gym after missing a scheduled visit, Milkman said.
“Obviously, the amount of money is trivial (we call our rewards ‘micro-incentives’ for a reason), but it draws attention to the idea of avoiding multiple missed visits,” said Milkman via email. “And that turned out to increase exercise by 27%.”
Conveying the popularity of exercise also seemed to increase how often people were hitting the gym, according to the study.
“By conveying that exercise is a growing trend, we were able to make workouts seem more appealing and that increased gym attendance by 24% during our 4-week intervention,” Milkman said via email.
One big takeaway is to keep coming back, said Heather Royer, professor of health economics at the University of California Santa Barbara. Royer was not part of the study.
“The best performing intervention is the one that rewards participants to come back to the gym after a workout. This might mean that (if) we fall off our plans we should try to encourage ourselves to get back to our plans,” Royer said.