The University of Pennsylvania’s Behavior for Change Initiative (BCFG) recently joined forces with the nationwide exercise outfit 24 Hour Fitness for a first-of-its-kind research study on what motivates us to make good, lasting habits.
Launched in April of this year, StepUp is a 28-day online program designed by a team of the brightest minds in science, including two Noble laureates, to understand how we can make better, longer-lasting choices that would improve life outcomes. To get those answers, BCFG has set an ambitious goal of enrolling more than 200,000 participants.
Led by Katherine Milkman, associate professor at the Wharton School and fellow co-founder Angela Duckworth, Ph.D., professor of psychology in the Penn School of Arts and author of Grit, the study hopes to gain insight on how we maintain good habits not just in exercise, but finances and education as well.
“We thought that there was a lack of science that was addressing how to create long-term sustained behavior change in people’s lives that would improve outcomes for them,” Katherine says. “Specifically, we founded with the goal of looking for ways to help people create positive outcomes on their health, their education and savings decisions.”
A Path to Success
When 24 Hour Fitness members sign up for the free web app, they will be assigned one of the 57 exercise paths derived from multiple disciplines of study, social sciences, computer sciences, economics and neuroscience. Each member would get a different experience depending on which path is assigned. The web app is full of infographics, questions, video incentives and various other motivating factors to get you to the gym.
During that 28-day period, scientists will have a keen eye on what motivates humans to make good choices that lead to good habits; it’s also a way for people to become healthier in the process.
Katherine explains that one of the reasons BCFG wanted to team up with 24 Hour Fitness is becuase of the rich data that can be extrapolated from the gym’s diverse membership. Lashaun Dale, vice president of content and programming for 24 Hour Fitness, says her company was more than eager to participate in the partnership because of its four-color philosophy that combines exercise with mindset, nourishment and regeneration. Instead of a one-size-fits-all workout program, Lashaun says having real data, real science and results across different demographics will give 24 Hour Fitness a better understanding of how to curate new and effective workouts for all of its members.
“It’s one of those things that is so appealing to us, this isn’t just looking at one angle of what motivates someone so you don’t get this formulaic answer that isn’t true,” she says. “What motivates one person may be very different for another person. What we love is that this study is really unpacking the behavioral changes to the nuances that are true about human beings.”
With only 21 percent of the U.S. population exercising at least the 150-minute minimum per week to stay healthy as recommended by the CDC, Lashaun says 24 Hour Fitness is motivated to spark a conversation within the industry on better ways to get more people moving.
“The more we understand what the obstacles are and the things that get in the way of a habit they already said they want to do and they know it’s in their best interest, then we can solve for that,” she says, “There is no limit to the types of workouts, the types of programs and the solutions we can create.”
Katherine says one of the challenges to getting more people to exercise is that it is not always appealing, even though people know they should. It is much more instantly gratifying to watch TV or hang out with friends. One of the reasons for creating the program was to close the gap between instant gratification and doing what is right.
“One of the premises of this work is we are hoping to make these healthy behaviors more automatic and habitual instead of having to think hard about it at the end of the day and make that deliberate choice to do the thing that doesn’t feel instantly gratifying,” she says.
Once we get ourselves into a pattern of behavior, she says, such as knowing what time to go to the gym or having our gym bag packed, then we have helped remove the emotional barriers and have started to make the decision easier. “Like every fitness program done well,” Lashaun adds, “it is appropriate to the individual, their goals, their life and everything that surrounds those choices and why they want to make those changes.”
To join the study or learn more go to StepUpFitness.org.