Research — 19 September 2013

Emerging evidence suggests even modest financial incentives can improve exercise commitment and effort.

A new study discovered as little as $5 a week improved exercise attendance among a group of individuals who had experienced a cardiac event or were at risk of cardiovascular disease. bigstockphoto_Running__390261

The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, reviewed 1,500 patients.

Researchers found that changing behavioral patterns to include exercise is difficult even for those who have experienced a cardiac event. Experts hope that rewarding positive health behaviors in the short run will help to instill long-term behavioral changes.

“The time commitment and discomfort of exercise prevents many adults from starting regular exercise,” said lead author and doctoral student Marc Mitchell.”For those who do start, most drop out within six months.”

Financial incentive-based public health strategies have gained popularity in North America in recent years, with smoking and weight loss being the more popular targets.

“People’s actions tend to serve their immediate self-interest at the expense of long-term well-being,” said Mitchell.

“This is often the case for exercise, where the costs are experienced in the present and the benefits are delayed. Because of this, many adults postpone exercise.”

This study was mainly done at Toronto Rehabilitation Institute’s Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation Program to help understand the conditions that might increase cardiac rehab adherence for patients who have had a cardiovascular event or are at risk of cardiovascular disease.

“Our research shows that people who participate in cardiac rehab programs after experiencing a major heart event cut their risk of dying from another cardiac event by as a much as 50 per cent,” said Dr. Paul Oh, medical director of the Cardiac Rehabilitation and Secondary Prevention Program and a scientist at Toronto Rehab.

“One of our concerns is there are people who need cardiac rehab, but are not receiving it or sticking with the program over the long term. The financial incentives model gives us an additional strategy to help more people fully engage with the life-saving care we provide.”

“We want people to continue their exercise regimen after graduating from cardiac rehab,” said Mitchell.

“Our research suggests that providing incentives in the short-term increases the amount of exercise people do – there is also potential to drive long-term change, but that will need to be studied further.

“The sustained behavior change we are seeking could save our health system millions by preventing repeat heart events.”

Source: University Health Network.

This article first appeared on Psych Central on 18 September, 2013.


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