The rewards reaped from exercising are no longer restricted to just maintaining physical and mental well-being. Sure, staying active regularly does benefit you and reduces the health risks of cardiovascular disease, obesity and more. But this isn’t enough to motivate some individuals that lack discipline in integrating exercise into their lives. Hence, gamification, data and material incentives come into play.
National Steps Challenge, Singapore’s first-ever nationwide physical activity programme involving steps movement initiated by the Health Promotion Board since November 2015, uses technology as an enabler to encourage Singaporeans to adopt active lifestyles and take responsibility for their own health. Here’s how it works: registered participants accumulate steps and track their progress via a free step tracker or Fitbit paired with the Healthy 365 mobile app. They can also track their diet and the total calories they consume and expend daily. As a bonus for accumulating steps daily, participants earn health points that are redeemable for retail vouchers. Was this a success?
According to a press statement by Smart Nation Singapore, season one—which ran from November 2015 to May 2016 —recorded over 156,000 participants from all age groups, with 70 percent of previously inactive participants averaging more than 7,000 steps per day, and 30 percent of participants clocking about 10,000 steps a day on average. Also, 63 percent of participants continued well beyond the formal programme.
Subsequent challenges saw 30,000 out of 696,000 participants clock an average of 5km a day over six months—almost 1,000km in total. The 41,000 who had taken part in all three editions of the National Steps Challenge also walked more in the third season. Their average daily number of steps went up by eight percent to nearly 10,000 steps.
This introduction of technological wearables and mobile applications certainly helps in engaging individuals to exercise through the enjoyment gained from such rules or game principles. Gamification, which is the use of game design elements in non-game contexts, allows the incentivisation of participants’ efforts with either tangible or intangible rewards or both.
Based on a research done by Queensland University of Technology and Digital Creativity Labs, gamification can motivate the initiation and continued performance of health and well-being behaviours. But beyond this, engaging with gamified applications can directly contribute to well-being by generating positive experiences of basic psychological need satisfaction as well as other elements of well-being like positive emotions and accomplishment. In addition, gamified systems using mobile phones or activity trackers can encompass practically all trackable everyday activity, unlike health games that require people to add dedicated time and space to their life.
For instance, although the Apple watch primarily tells the time and is able to perform various tasks mirroring a smartphone, this smartwatch also touts an Activity app with a goal to close three rings daily—Move, Exercise and Stand.
The Move ring can be completed by hitting a personal goal of active calories burnt that’s trackable by the Apple watch. Most movement, even walking, contributes to closing this ring. Similarly, the Exercise ring measures brisk activity like climbing stairs instead of riding a lift or a specific exercise done in correspondence to the various recorded with the Workout app. This can be closed with at least 30 minutes or about of activity. Lastly, Stand encourages wearers to get up and move about for at least one minute during 12 different hours in the day.
Besides closing rings, Activity awards are rewarded for achieving personal records, streaks and major milestones. Some awards have specific requirements in order to obtain them, such as completing any workout of at least 15 minutes every day of the week for the 7-Workout Week badge, and unique monthly challenges involving random goals like closing all Activity rings six times a month. Such badges are a form of reward that function as a status-affirming experience, source of reputation, and achieving a goal. Bragging rights included.
A research examined by Dion Hoe-Lian Goh and Khasfariyati Razikin in ‘Is gamification effective in motivating exercise?’ explains these virtual badges provide a form of recognition for the effort app users put into their exercise and will motivate them to improve further. They are more likely to continue engaging in an exercise of their own volition too.
Another fitness-tracking wearable leader Fitbit also captures data like distance, steps, calories and pulse rate to incorporate them with game mechanics, such as scoring, competition and challenges to motivate and encourage desired behaviours. This includes exploring a city virtually via a smartphone while wearing a Fitbit.
Without a doubt, gamification applications can encourage increased frequency of exercise and improve attitudes when paired with enjoyment. And digital technologies like data from behavioural insights and tracking capabilities make this possible.
Apps that'll motivate you to meet fitness objectives
Nike Run Club
Join fellow Nike enthusiasts on guided running workouts, custom coaching plans, or organised challenges that’ll
make your daily run enjoyable. The app celebrates progress and accomplished achievements with personalised messages which can be shared with friends. This continuous encouragement boosts confidence while also raising engagement with the app.
Map My Run
When synced with Under Armour smart shoes, the app tracks everything from pace and stride length to cadence.
Users get personalised coaching tips along the way if they have a smartwatch like a Garmin or an Apple watch. Its social element allows users to find support and motivation from other runners, plus create challenges among friends. Also, you can create and discover new running routes via the app.
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Using urban exploration as a motivator to boost active living, District allows unexpected discovery with virtual checkpoints and challenges spread across the city. There is no set route or distance so you can strategise and plan your own routes, choosing which checkpoints and challenges to clear to maximise your score. Each challenge requires different skills to tackle—speed, city knowledge, dexterity and problem-solving.
In partnership with Apple, this personalised programme designed in Singapore encourages healthy activity and behaviours using an Apple watch. Users travel through worlds with a friendly intergalactic explorer who guides them through tasks that are personalised based on their age, gender and weight. They include weekly activity goals that can be met through not just walking, but also swimming, yoga and other activities.