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Indian-American researcher finds competing in office motivates fitness

Adding fun and competition might give you greater benefits from exercise, according to an Indian-American professor at University of Pennsylvania.

Mitesh Patel, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania. (Photo: med.upenn.edu)

The research team led by Mitesh Patel, the director of Penn Medicine’s Nudge Unit and an assistant professor of Medicine and Health Care Management at the Perelman School of Medicine, found that competition works better in terms of delivering results on the fitness front.

The results are published in the latest issue of JAMA Internal Medicine

Recognizing that using a wearable device alone may not always be enough to motivate more exercise, the teams added fun and competition to provide the catalyst needed to drive real results.

The new study was conducted by researchers at Penn Medicine and Deloitte Consulting LLP, a Sept. 11, press release from the University said.

In the study, entitled ‘STEP UP’, the two teams combined behavioral insights, gaming elements such as points and levels, and social elements like support, collaboration, or competition to generate “significantly positive” results in a workplace physical activity program, the press release said.

However, when the study turned off the gaming elements, only those who were in the group where competition was still part of the program, showed “sustained” higher levels of physical activity.

“Gamification and wearable devices are used commonly in workplace wellness programs and by digital health applications, but there is an opportunity to improve their impact on health behaviors by better incorporating behavioral insights and social incentives,” Patel is quoted saying in the press release.

“We found that a behaviorally designed gamification program led to significant increases in physical activity compared to a control group that used wearable devices alone. During the nine-month trial, the average person in the competition arm walked about 100 miles more than the average person in control,” Patel added.

Six hundred DeLoitte employees too part in the study for a period of six months. Those classified as obese or overweight had to follow a personalized step goal, recorded in wearable devices providing them feedback. Four groups were set up. One had the goals set and the device, and three had games tied to their goals.

According to the researchers, the key to the next steps will be the data that they collected from each participant on a wide range of characteristics including demographics, personality type, and social networks.

“Most interventions are designed as one-size-fits-all, in which a single intervention is deployed to a large population,” said Patel. “Even if the program works on average, many participants may not benefit. Our next step will be to use data from this trial to develop behavioral profiles that could be used in the future to match the right intervention to the right person.”

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