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Increasing the number of daily steps we take is just one way we can up our fitness levels and contribute to the government’s recommended 150 minutes of weekly exercise.
But having both the time, and motivation, to squeeze in thousands of daily steps is easier said than done.
Now scientists have revealed a new technique that could help to will us on to walking more each day, and it involves a healthy dose of competition.
In a new study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers discovered that gamifying physical activity encouraged people to increase their daily step count more effectively than setting a goal alone.
“Competition led to sustained increases in physical activity, possibly by better motivating individuals to create new habits,” University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine behavioral health expert Mitesh Patel, who led the new research, said in an email to Discover Magazine.
Around 600 overweight and obese adults employed at a large, national consulting firm were recruited by Patel and a team of researchers to take part in the study.
Each subject was given a wrist pedometer tracking how many steps they took each day, with feedback given via smartphone. After a few weeks collating data on how far study participants generally walked on a daily basis, each participant was asked to set a new step count goal before being randomly split into four groups.
In the control group participants were asked simply to try and hit their new daily step goal. In another group 450 participants were entered into a game where they earned rewards for hitting their step goal target, starting at a middle level. When enough points were earned participants moved up in achievements levels. However, if the failed to meet their goal over the course of seven days they would go down a level.
The gaming group was then divided into three further groups. One received support from a friend or family member via email messages. A second group collaborated together in groups of three, with participants only able to proceed up a level if the group as a whole reached a certain number of points by the end of the week. The third, and final, group competed against each other for the top spot on a leaderboard.
The research revealed that out of the four groups those in competition with each other proved to be the most physically active, taking around an additional 1,000 steps per day compared to the control group.
And while those in the collaboration and support groups also walked more than the control group during the course of the six-month study, the competition element seemed to spark more enduring habits in participants. This idea seems to have been supported when researchers turned off the game for a period of three months following the study.
While activity levels dipped overall, those in the competition group still kept ‘significantly greater’ activity levels when compared to the control group.