The results of a years-long behavioral science study conducted through a partnership between the University of Pennsylvania’s Behavior Change for Good Initiative (BCFG) and well known fitness industry leader 24 Hour Fitness.

The StepUp Program launched in April 2018, was designed to explore what really motivates gym-goers with the goal of identifying tools to create lasting life-changing healthy habits. The science-based interactive digital program was developed to encourage more visits to the gym and ultimately, better health and fitness for life.

The Study

BCFG created the 28-day workout rewards program, which simultaneously tested 53 inexpensive, scalable, science-based strategies aimed at building exercise habits among 60,000+ 24 Hour Fitness club members. 45% of the strategies tested significantly increased gym check-ins during the program.

Led by Angela Duckworth, the Rosa Lee and Egbert Chang Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and Katherine Milkman, the James G. Dinan Professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the BCFG Initiative unites leaders in the social sciences, medicine, computer science, and neuroscience to solve the problem of enduring behavior change. BCFG connects this world-class scientific team, including Nobel laureates and members of the National Academy of Sciences, with partner organizations to test and improve a behavior change program incorporating the latest insights from researchers. The program focuses on improving people’s daily health decisions.

The Future of Fitness

“There is more clarity now on the importance of integrating fitness into our daily lives, and increasing visits to the gym is one way to do that,” says Professor Katherine Milkman, Co-Director of BCFG. “We found that a program that encouraged people to plan gym visits, offered micro-incentives for exercise, and sent text reminders to people shortly before planned workouts added real value and could be made more potent using a number of insights from behavioral science. Our work demonstrates how consumers can take small steps—making daily plans for fitness, bundling their workouts with a favorite podcast or audiobook, and avoiding streaks of missed workouts—to increase their physical activity.”

“Our goal at 24 Hour Fitness has always been to help create a world of healthier, happier people,” said Tony Ueber, CEO, 24 Hour Fitness. “Now, more than ever, fitness is a crucial aspect of both physical and emotional wellness. We’re delighted that our first-of-its-kind partnership with BCFG has yielded results that will provide people with tools to better equip them to incorporate fitness into their lives and become their healthiest selves.”

Earlier this year, leading behavioral scientist Katy Milkman released her best-selling book, “How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be,” which discusses key insights from the Nature paper along with findings from numerous other studies of behavior change.

Tips for Building a Healthy Fitness Habit

So, how do you develop healthier fitness habits? For one person, putting out gym clothes the night before works like a charm. For another, it might be a workout buddy that helps with accountability. For a third person, success might require something completely different. In addition to the work of BCFG, 24 Hour Fitness offers the following consumer tips to consider that can help you build healthier fitness habits that stick:

Build a Plan, Set Reminders: Prompt yourself by scheduling fitness into your day and provide self-reminders. Making concrete plans for fitness makes it harder to overlook and can increase your commitment to fitness if it’s scheduled in advance.

Think of Fitness as A Way of Life: Now, more than ever, overall health is becoming increasingly important. Learn about the benefits of fitness—read, get advice from a fitness professional—while knowing that you are joining growing number of learners making a similar discovery. The motivation that comes from working out with a community of like-minded gym goers is a powerful experience.

Bundle Your Gym Visit with an Activity You Love: In order to build a lasting habit, consider combining a workout with another fun activity that you limit to your workout. For instance, listen to your favorite Podcast or a great book ONLY when you’re at the gym.

Reward Yourself: Set achievable goals and write them down in a journal. For instance, going to the gym three days a week or increasing your weekly runs by 10%. After a month of success, reward yourself with a piece of new workout apparel.

Miss A Workout? No Problem! Recruit a Fitness Buddy: It’s more difficult to disappoint a friend, especially one that also believes in the importance of fitness. So schedule your workouts with a new fitness buddy; you’re much less likely to back out and you’ll have more fun along the way.

About The Behavior Change for Good Initiative and the University of Pennsylvania

The Behavior Change for Good Initiative (BCFG) at the Wharton School and School of Arts and Sciences of the University of Pennsylvania unites a world-class, interdisciplinary team of over 100 behavioral science experts (including two Nobel Laureates, four MacArthur Genius Award winners, and numerous members of the National Academy of Sciences) with leading organizational partners to help advance the science and practice of behavior change. BCFG identifies what works at scale by conducting mega-studies (massive random-assignment A/B tests), which simultaneously test the BCFG Scientific Team’s best ideas for changing a target behavior. This approach gives BCFG the power to understand which strategies work best overall, what works best for whom, and how to most effectively use behavioral science to transform people’s lives for the better. n

About 24 Hour Fitness

Celebrating over 35 years as an industry leader, 24 Hour Fitness helps to transform lives every day through fitness. Clean and spacious clubs, furnished with a wide variety of strength, cardio, and functional training equipment, offer a welcoming environment for members to take part in professionally coached fitness programs. Group exercise and cycle rooms feature a popular array of live classes, helping inspire every member to lead a healthier, happier life. As an ongoing part of the company’s investment in technology and innovation to enhance the member experience, the 24GO® personalized fitness app helps everyone keep healthy anytime, anywhere. The app provides touch-free club check-in as well as hundreds of on-demand workouts to support fitness at home or in the club. It also serves as a gateway to 24GO Plus™, a current premium digital subscription featuring customizable Smart Workouts, audio coaching, access to more than 50 weekly, live-coached virtual group training sessions and more. 24GO Plus™ is included currently at no extra cost with 24 Hour Fitness membership. 24 Hour Fitness also offers the 24GO TV™ workout channel, with free streaming content available 24/7 through the 24GO® app and on YouTube.


The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as a health advice. We would ask you to consult a qualified professional or medical expert to gain additional knowledge before you choose to consume any product or perform any exercise.


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