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People shed pounds when money is at stake

Category: General Health

Many people may need a little motivation in order to get into shape. Maybe it will take the results of a lab test showing that they have high cholesterol or an increased risk of heart disease, or maybe they will have to experience a heart attack before they finally decide to get fit. According to a recent report from the University of Michigan Health System and Stanford University, one way to encourage people to take better care of themselves could be to make them pay money if they don't.

In recent years, some health insurance companies have begun charging obese people more for their policies. The researchers discovered that while this move may have been controversial, it has also shown to be effective.

Money makes a difference
The scientists discovered that when people were told that they would either have to exercise more often or pay 20 percent more for health insurance, the vast majority of people chose to get in shape. To come to their conclusions, the researchers examined a group of people who were part of the Blue Care Network. These individuals were part of a program in which they used a pedometer to count their steps, and would be given a discount on their health insurance if they met the goal of 5,000 steps a day.

The researchers found that after one year, 97 percent of individuals in the study met or exceeded the goal. This included the people who said that they disagreed with the whole idea of the program and said that they found it to be "coercive."

"There are ethical debates around the idea of forcing someone to be personally responsible for health care costs related to not exercising, but we expect to see more of these approaches to financially motivate healthier behaviors," says senior author Caroline R. Richardson, M.D. "Our evaluation of Blue Care's incentivized program showed a surprisingly high rate of people who enrolled in the Internet-mediated walking program and stuck with it - even among those who were initially hostile to the idea."

A major difference
The researchers explained that for some families, not meeting the health criteria for their insurance program resulted in them having to spend almost $2,000 more each year on coverage. Of the people who participated in this program, one-third said that they did not like it because they felt as though they were being coerced by the financial incentives, but other respondents said they enjoyed it.

Walking more can be simple

While this program called for people to walk 5,000 steps per day, past research has called for more. For example, researchers from the U.S., Australia, Canada, France and Sweden conducted a study in 2008 which found that people need to walk more than 10,000 steps per day if they want to lose weight.

However, people can find many easy ways to walk more. For example, people can purposefully park their cars farther away from their office than they normally do, forcing them to walk farther. Furthermore, simply getting up to talk to a coworker rather than picking up the phone and calling him or her can make a difference throughout the day. As a rule, it's a good idea to get up and walk at least once every hour, especially for individuals who work in an office environment where they are sitting for most of the day.

If people take a look at how they live day to day, chances are they will find many opportunities to walk more often.

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