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Rewards apps can drive long-term change if users highly engaged: Western University researchers

The study focused on the app Carrot Rewards. via Western University

A new study out of Western University’s School of Kinesiology suggests that smartphone apps that provide small but immediate rewards for achieving physical activity goals can lead to long-term change.

The 12-month study was led by the school’s Marc Mitchell and focused on the app he helped develop, Carrot Rewards.

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The app used tiny, daily rewards — as little as 4 cents — and individualized step goals to drive user engagement. Sixty per cent of users engaged for at least six months, with the most committed users seeing an average daily step increase of 1,821 and those who used it consistently taking 1,251 more steps per day.

“From a public health perspective, a one per cent reduction in the number of Canadians classified as physically inactive would yield annual health care savings of $2.1 billion,” Mitchell said.

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“If we generalize our findings to the larger Carrot Rewards user base (1,046,185 as of April 2019), then we estimate that the number of Canadians classified as physically inactive would be reduced by 0.3 per cent (about 100,000 Canadians).”

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The participants were based in British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

A release from the university adds that while the health benefits of consistent moderate-to-vigorous physical activity are well established, global rates of people engaging in these behaviours remain low. It goes on to say that new research is indicating that physical activity at low intensity also provides health benefits.

Unsurprisingly, the study also found that Canadians walk less in the winter, though not when using the Carrot Rewards app.

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The “quasi-experimental study” of 39,113 participants was published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.

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