You Literally Can’t Pay Us to Go to the Gym, According to New Study

iStock
iStock

A new study finds that financial incentives are not enough to motivate people to exercise, even when those people really want to develop good habits. The findings were reported in a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that just 1 in 5 American adults meets recommended physical activity levels. Many of us want to do better. That’s why we buy elliptical machines, sign up for yoga classes, and join the gym. Unfortunately, more often than we’d like, these investments go to waste.

Previous studies of exercise motivation have found that financial incentives have had mixed results. But these studies focused on the general population, so it’s possible that many of the participants didn’t actually care about upping their exercise in the first place.

To find out if paying people to hit the gym pays off, researchers recruited 836 new gym members: that is, people who already had a financial stake in working out more frequently. The experts divided the participants into four groups. The first group, the control group, was paid $30 no matter what they did. The other groups were told that they’d be rewarded for attending the gym just 1.5 times per week during their first six weeks of membership. The rewards were either a $30 or $60 Amazon gift card or a $30 item of the participant’s choosing.

The researchers tracked how many times each participant swiped in at the gym. To ensure that people weren’t just showing up, swiping in, then leaving, they enacted a 10-minute minimum halfway through the study. The new policy didn’t make much difference; people still showed up with the same frequency.

Or, more accurately, they didn’t show up.

Before the study began, participants said they planned to visit the gym an average of three times each week. Reality looked a bit different. People in the control group started out fine, going 1.5 times per week, but by the end of the study they were down to once a week. The folks in the incentive groups didn’t fare much better. They averaged 1.73 weekly visits during their second week, but tapered to a single weekly workout by the end of the study period. After the six weeks ended, all four groups’ attendance declined even further.

Co-author Mariana Carrera is an economist at Case Western University’s Weatherhead School of Management. She says adding money to the participants’ initial enthusiasm was still not enough.

"They wanted to exercise regularly, and yet their behavior did not match their intent, even with a reward," she said in a statement. "People thought earning the incentive would be easy but were way overoptimistic about how often they'd go."

Let’s not lose faith just yet. Gift cards may not be the key to a fitter life, but there are other ways we can motivate ourselves.

First, pause and reflect, and try to figure out what’s holding you back. Are you tired? Is your gym too far from your workplace? Do you just kind of hate your yoga instructor? The obstacles may be easily overcome once you know what they are.

Second, get someone else, a friend or a coworker, to hold you accountable to your exercise plan. Shame is a powerful deterrent.

Finally, try lowering your standards. Five minutes of exercise is better than zero; start there. And many of us are far more active than we realize. Carrying groceries, chasing your kids, and walking to the coffee shop may not require cute leggings or bright sneakers, but they're still exercise.

You Can Now Order—and Donate—Girl Scout Cookies Online

It's OK if you decide to ignore the recommended serving size on a box of these beauties.
It's OK if you decide to ignore the recommended serving size on a box of these beauties.
Girl Scouts

Girl Scouts may have temporarily suspended both cookie booths and door-to-door sales to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be deprived of your annual supply of everyone’s favorite boxed baked goods. Instead, you can now order Thin Mints, Tagalongs, and all the other classic cookies online—or donate them to local charities.

When you enter your ZIP code on the “Girl Scouts Cookie Care” page, it’ll take you to a digital order form for the nearest Girl Scouts organization in your area. Then, simply choose your cookies—which cost $5 or $6 per box—and check out with your payment and shipping information. There’s a minimum of four boxes for each order, and shipping fees vary based on quantity.

Below the list of cookies is a “Donate Cookies” option, which doesn’t count toward your own order total and doesn’t cost any extra to ship. You get to choose how many boxes to donate, but the Girl Scouts decide which kinds of cookies to send and where exactly to send them (the charity, organization, or group of people benefiting from your donation is listed on the order form). There’s a pretty wide range of recipients, and some are specific to healthcare workers—especially in regions with particularly large coronavirus outbreaks. The Girl Scouts of Greater New York, for example, are sending donations to NYC Health + Hospitals, while the Girl Scouts of Western Washington have simply listed “COVID-19 Responders” as their recipients.

Taking their cookie business online isn’t the only way the Girl Scouts are adapting to the ‘stay home’ mandates happening across the country. They’ve also launched “Girl Scouts at Home,” a digital platform filled with self-guided activities so Girl Scouts can continue to learn skills and earn badges without venturing farther than their own backyard. Resources are categorized by grade level and include everything from mastering the basics of coding to building a life vest for a Corgi (though the video instructions for that haven’t been posted yet).

“For 108 years, Girl Scouts has been there in times of crisis and turmoil,” Girl Scouts of the USA CEO Sylvia Acevedo said in a press release. “And today we are stepping forward with new initiatives to help girls, their families, and consumers connect, explore, find comfort, and take action.”

You can order cookies here, and explore “Girl Scouts at Home” here.

Can't Find Yeast? Grow Your Own at Home With a Sourdough Starter

Dutodom, iStock via Getty Images
Dutodom, iStock via Getty Images

Baking bread can relieve stress and it requires long stretches of time at home that many of us now have. But shoppers have been panic-buying some surprising items since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. In addition to pantry staples like rice and beans, yeast packets are suddenly hard to find in grocery stores. If you got the idea to make homemade bread at the same time as everyone on your Instagram feed, don't let the yeast shortage stop you. As long as you have flour, water, and time, you can grow your own yeast at home.

While many bread recipes call for either instant yeast or dry active yeast, sourdough bread can be made with ingredients you hopefully already have on hand. The key to sourdough's unique, tangy taste lies in its "wild" yeast. Yeast is a single-celled type of fungus that's abundant in nature—it's so abundant, it's floating around your home right now.

To cultivate wild yeast, you need to make a sourdough starter. This can be done by combining one cup of flour (like whole grain, all-purpose, or a mixture of the two) with a half cup of cool water in a bowl made of nonreactive material (such as glass, stainless steel, or food-grade plastic). Cover it with plastic wrap or a clean towel and let it sit in a fairly warm place (70°F to 75°F) for 24 hours.

Your starter must be fed with one cup of flour and a half cup of water every day for five days before it can be used in baking. Sourdough starter is a living thing, so you should notice is start to bubble and grow in size over time (it also makes a great low-maintenance pet if you're looking for company in quarantine). On the fifth day, you can use your starter to make dough for sourdough bread. Here's a recipe from King Arthur Flour that only calls for starter, flour, salt, and water.

If you just want to get the urge to bake out of your system, you can toss your starter once you're done with it. If you plan on making sourdough again, you can use the same starter indefinitely. Starters have been known to live in people's kitchens for decades. But to avoid using up all your flour, you can store yours in the fridge after the first five days and reduce feedings to once a week.

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