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University of Pennsylvania and 24 Hour Fitness Release Behavior Change Study Findings

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Behavior Change Study

University of Pennsylvania’s Behavior Change for Good Initiative (BCFG) and national fitness chain 24 Hour Fitness have released the results of a behavior change study designed to explore what really motivates gym-goers. The goal of the study was to identify which tools are most effective at creating lasting, life-changing healthy habits. 

The behavior change study was 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.

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

Examples of strategies tried and tested include: 

  • Just the Basics: This strategy prompted club members to plan their weekly gym visits, sent them text messages prior to scheduled workouts, and offered 300 points for each gym visit ($0.22 redeemable on Amazon). This alone produced a 9% boost in gym visits.
  • A Bonus for Returning After a Missed Workout: Club members who missed a scheduled workout received a 125 point bonus ($0.09 redeemable on Amazon) the next time they visited the gym, and this was built on top of the basic program. This version of the StepUp program produced a 27% boost in gym visits.
  • Conveying That Exercise is a Trend: Club members were informed the majority of Americans exercise and that the number was increasing in addition to getting the basic program. This version of the program produced a 24% boost in gym visits.


“Our goal at 24 Hour Fitness has always been to help create a world of healthier, happier people,” said Tony Ueber, the CEO of 24 Hour Fitness, in a statement. “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.”

The full results were recently published in the scientific journal, “Nature.” The findings are interesting for fitness professionals looking to foster behavior change within and outside their four walls. 

“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,” said Milkman, in a statement. “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.”

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Rachel Zabonick-Chonko

Rachel Zabonick-Chonko is the editor-in-chief of Club Solutions Magazine. She can be reached at rachel@peakemedia.com.

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