The worst place for a workout reminder: Stuck on your post-it laden fridge

So says MSN’s Health and Fitness section:

A visual nudge can help–but only if you notice it, says Paddy Ekkekakis, PhD, an exercise psychologist at Iowa State University. In one study, a sign urging people to use the stairs rather than the nearby escalator increased the number of people who climbed on foot by nearly 200%. Put your prompt near a decision point, Ekkekakis says–keep your pile of Pilates DVDs next to the TV; put a sticky note on your steering wheel to make sure you get to your after-work kickboxing class. Just remember: The boost you get from a reminder is usually short-term, so change the visuals often.

In an email, Ekkekakis (who cautioned that this research is not his primary area of interest) elaborated that the effectiveness of the nudge is determined, in part, by the length of time it is in plain view. If a note is posted in an elevator bank about the benefits of walking a flight of stairs for just two days, there is some evidence that the effect of the nudge “dissipates almost entirely” once it is removed. A note that hangs for two weeks in the elevator bank is likely to have a residual effect on people after it is removed. This effect can vary from a few days to as long as a month. In keeping with framing research in other disciplines, two studies that played with the message wording found different responsiveness by race, suggesting that targeting population groups with different phrasing is likely to increase the nudge’s effectiveness.

An excellent summary of this research in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine raises five areas of exercise nudge research that are worth exploring.

  • What is the sustained effect of placing signs near the elevator or escalator?
  • What effect does varying the message or format of the sign have on providing a “booster” to stair climbing among the targeted population?
  • What type of sign is most effective? What effect do format or size have, if any?
  • Does effectiveness vary by setting and target audience?
  • Is there a “critical distance” from the elevator or escalator to the stairs in which the effect of signage on stair-climbing behavior is reduced?

If you’d like a brief summary of the evidence from five studies, click here.

These type of individual-level nudges are not the only way the boost exercise. Although there are additional areas of study on community outreach, media public awareness campaigns, and physical fitness and health curriculum, it appears the results are reported separately for each area, which makes assessing the nudges against each other difficult. The next time a community outreach initiative is drawn-up, it would be worth integrating a series of individual-level nudges to compare with aggregate-level nudges and/or test for possible interactive effects.

5 Responses to “The worst place for a workout reminder: Stuck on your post-it laden fridge”

  1. Wallace Weeks Says:

    nudges? never heard of it before but certainly has opened my eyes to a couple things. thank for the post.

  2. bryan Says:

    That sounds pretty impressive, it could really help reminding with those nudges.

  3. Cybex Exercise Equipment Says:

    I should try this at the elevator in my office, maybe more people would take the stairs!

  4. Ben King Says:

    I must admit that I do this all the time. And it does work , although you do have to refresh it regulary other wise it will gather dust like everything else

  5. Heart Monitor Watch Says:

    A great place to put them is on the mirror in the bathroom I find. And I do vary them in text and where I place them on the mirror. Works great almost as subliminal messages because after a while you don’t consciously notice them.

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