Why To Exercise Today: To Avoid Losing

The new company is called Gym-Pact, and the Globe reports:

Gym-Pact negotiated a group rate with Planet Fitness, then paid the membership fees for participants, who in return for a free membership agreed to work out at least four times per week. If they fail to follow the schedule in any one week, the participants pay $25. If they leave the program for any reason other than injury or illness, they will pay $75. For now the fees will be used to pay for the gym memberships and to build a financial aid fund.

This is a beautiful use of behavioral economics, which includes findings that people make different decisions depending on whether the cool, rational side of the brain is in charge ("It is good for me to exercise") or the hot, emotional side ("But all I really want to do right now is eat comfort food and curl up on the couch.") Gym-Pact is trying to help people use their cool sides now ("I pledge to work out four times a week") to harness their hot sides in the future. ("Ouch, I really don't want to lose that 25 bucks.")

Dr. Eddie Phillips, director of the Institute of Lifestyle Medicine, adds: "Studies show that people are generally motivated more by what they might lose, in this case money, than what they may gain. My take on it is that you have to focus on what you are losing by NOT exercising: the mental health benefits--endorphins and stress reduction--the cardiovascular benefits, flexibility and strength, all the good things that come with a regular commitment to exercise. Is it worth that cost to skip the gym?"

You might try this at home. Make a verbal pact with someone who really doesn't deserve your hard-earned money that you'll pay them a fee if you don't meet your workout schedule. Let me know how it goes!

This program aired on January 27, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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Carey Goldberg Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.



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