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Increasing daily physical activity


Content Reviewers:

Rishi Desai, MD, MPH

Our lives are becoming more and more sedentary.

Most of us have jobs that are sedentary, and we spend more time in the car or in front of screens than ever before.

To combat this, some people have started to try to increase their daily step count.

But it can be hard to stay motivated over time.

So researchers set out to figure out how to best motivate people that are trying to increase their daily step count.

They first compared setting a static goal, which is where there’s one step count goal that doesn’t change, to setting an adaptive goal, which is where the goal changes based on how active a person has recently been.

They also compared giving cash rewards immediately after a person reaches a goal, to giving cash rewards months later for just participating in the study.

The researchers recruited 96 overweight and inactive adults and had them wear pedometers while they were awake and recorded their daily step counts at baseline for about 10 days.

So from day 1 to day 10, individuals in all four groups instructed to not change their daily behaviors so the researchers could get a feel their usual routine.

Now, on day 11 of the study, which was the beginning of the intervention phase all participants were sent an email that encouraged them to strive for an ultimate target of 10,000 steps per day on at least 5 days a week.

They were then randomized into four groups: an adaptive goal and immediate reward group, an adaptive goal and delayed reward group, a static goal and immediate reward group, and a static goal and delayed reward group.

Individuals in each of these four groups were then monitored for an additional 110 days—a little under 4 months.

For the two static groups, 10,000 steps a day remained the goal for the rest of the study.

The adaptive goal groups, however, were given daily goals based on a person’s step counts for the last 9 days.

More specifically, they took the step counts over the prior 9 days, ordered them lowest to highest, took the 4th highest step count, rounded that number up to the nearest 25 steps, and set that as the next day’s goal.

As an example, if the past nine days step counts were 951; 1,256; 4,508; 4,563; 5,218; 6,235; 7,358; 9,563; and 10,200; then they took the 4th highest step count which is 6,235 and rounded up to the nearest 25 steps.

In this case 6,250 steps was the next day’s step goal.

In this way, they reset the daily goal each day for the people in the two adaptive goal groups.