Fitness apps that warn users to ‘exercise or die’ more effective –

Fitness apps that scare their customers with death and illness-related messaging are more effective at getting users to work out, a study has found.

Bleak alerts, slogans and statistics that draw attention to the possibility of drastic consequences due to a lack of exercise work far better in getting users off the couch.

No specific apps were mentioned in the paper, but example messages used in the research included: “Six per cent of the world’s death is caused by physical inactivity.” Another stated: “Those who do not find time for exercise will have to find time for illness”. 

Both of these proved far more effective than those which used scare-mongering messages around social stigma, obesity, or financial loss.

Out of the hundreds of participants in the study, far more rated these messages as “completely motivating” than messages such as: “The stigma against people with obesity is comparable to that of racial discrimination.”

Overall, negative messages were found to be more effective than positive or rewards-based communication.

The study was originally conducted to look into how effective health apps are.

‘I did not expect only illness and death related messages to be significant’

Kiemute Oyibo, from the University of Waterloo in Canada, told the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI) that the findings came as a surprise. “I did not expect only illness- and death-related messages to be significant and motivational,” he said. 

The study also went on to explore the possibility of whether males or females are more motivated by the apps. It found, however, that there was no correlation between gender and how much an individual utilises their fitness app.

Although the study did find that there is a “significant relationship between females’ perceived motivation of social-stigma-related messages and their outcome expectations and self-efficacy belief”,  but there was none for men.

Dr Oyibo added: “Not only were illness- and death-related messages motivational, they had a significant relationship with self-regulatory belief and outcome expectation, and there was no significant difference between males and females.”

The study questioned 669 participants to indicate how persuasive five types of messaging were when motivating them to work out at home.

The categories of messages were made up of those that focus on obesity, financial loss, illness, death, and social stigma.

Dr Oyibo said: “This study is important because it helps us – especially designers of health apps – understand the types of messages that individuals, regardless of gender, are likely …….


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