Those Cheesy Motivational Messages on Your Smartwatch Might Actually Inspire You To Exercise More

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When it comes to working out, being told “good job” in even the smallest ways can be a powerful motivator.

A new study from University of Minnesota researchers that will be published in the forthcoming issue of the Journal of Association of Information Systems looked at the effect of digital “kudos” and “nudges” in a fitness tracking app. Kudos were equivalent to likes, and nudges consisted of personalized motivational messages.

The study followed users of the app for four years, and ultimately found that both of these types of digital high fives led to increases in exercise—even more than cash incentives. Specifically, viewing a kudos would lead to a five percent increase in weekly activity frequency.

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Interestingly, the effect of kudos waned over time, with their efficacy tapping out after around 10 months. However, the personalized messages had positive effects for the duration of the study. In fact, those messages were most effective for less active people, and their impact increased over time.

While this study used a corporate wellness app, the researchers say its findings can extend to the fitness apps and trackers the rest of us use since “the kudos and messaging features we study on this platform mimic that of other social platforms and are commonly found,” says co-author and professor of information sciences De Liu. Strava's kudos feature is literally called “kudos,” while on Apple Watches you can get awards or pre-written encouraging messages from friends.

Overall, Liu says the findings show the need for more innovative ways of showing support digitally to keep a user engaged and motivated over time.

Studies like this one help us know whether the money and time we're investing in our digital fitness tools is actually worth it. While research shows that wearing a pedometer increases the amount people walk, the jury is still out on whether fitness trackers help in the long term. This research adds some evidence—with caveats—in favor of digital fitness tools.

So next time you get a trophy, high-five, or “great job” notification, don’t roll your eyes so quickly. It could be doing more for you than you know.

Get the good vibes flowing with this positivity-filled yoga flow.

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