Rewards For Fitness Goals: Will They Help You?

Created by Rehan Sajid

Last Updated: September 2, 2020

Rewards for fitness goals: Do they actually work? If you set yourself some sort of incentive for reaching small fitness targets or bigger fitness goals, will this increase your chances of success? Rehan knows this topic well and offers his (research-backed) insights to share an interesting answer to this question. – Elly

Do Rewards Help With Your Fitness Goals?

Fitness has always been a very heated topic for most and of late a lot of interest has gone into assessing whether rewards and recognition help individuals lose weight.

Obesity statistics

Obesity has been on the rise, across the globe and especially in developed nations.

According to researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) adults classed as obese increased over the last decade. The report which was published online on March 23rd, 2018 as a research letter in the Journal of the American Medical Association, indicates that obesity rates amongst adults increased from 33.7% to 39.6%, over the course of the decade of when the report was being put together.

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Tackling the obesity epidemic

Obese individuals are often pushed towards getting fitter and healthier by not only family members and friends but also government organizations. Why? Well because obesity is often the cause of serious diseases and heart conditions.

Obese people are not only at higher risk of developing heart disease, stroke and diabetes but also certain cancers, including prostate, kidney and pancreas cancers.

And as prevention is better than a cure, government organizations really value the benefits behind tackling the epidemic of obesity. 

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Has the UK sugar tax helped as a weight loss initiative?

Some governments, like the UK, have implemented a sugar tax (as of April 2018) to try to get people to avoid soda drinks. This sugar tax, officially known as the Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL) essentially means that the UK government had hoped for a lower intake of soda / soft drinks. This hope was based on the added 24p cost of soft drinks that contain more than 8g of sugar per liter. 

It is too early to draw on any specific studies but according to the data analytics company Nielsen, 62% of consumers said that their shopping habits had not been affected by the sugar tax. If the tax doesn’t change shopping habits then it’s not going to help people with their goals of losing weight or getting healthier.

Why doesn’t the sugar tax help fix the obesity problem?

There’s a reason that putting taxes on such items does not work in any significant manner. Quite simply there is not an incentive to eat healthier or get serious about their weight loss journey. It just costs a few pence more for that can of soda. For most people, this is still cheaper than the alternative.

Just look at products like Pepsi and Coca Cola, who have not changed the content of sugar in their products. They are quite happy to pass on the added costs of the sugar tax to consumers, who still order these products.

The problem with a sugar tax is that it does not create a habit of eating healthy or staying fit. All it does is introduce a cost-based deterrent to certain items. 

Healthy rewards for reaching goals could be used as an alternative approach

Imagine if the government instead said this:

If you stay within a certain limit of grams of sugar in a month you will be rewarded with a financial incentive. That could be a reduction in a tax bill or a voucher for healthier groceries.

That will work a lot better (and has in small testing). However, it is a very expensive exercise for any government to roll out. There’s also the logistical nightmare of looking at how to measure such intake.

Rewards for weight loss are a complex topic at a Governmental level. Luckily weight loss rewards and rewards for exercising can be much simpler at an individual level!

Elly: The FIIT home workout app has over 600 pre-recorded fitness classes, as well as live sessions. In their live leaderboard classes, they offer FIIT points as a form of reward and motivation. You can compete against other users and aim to work your way up the leaderboard, based on the effort you’re putting into the class.

[Get your free 14 day trial via the ad below and enter the code ELLY10 for 10% discount off any membership].

Significance of exercise rewards

Now, let’s talk more about rewards. 

Rewards do not just work for fitness. Rewards work because they create habits, and it is with these habits that we achieve our goals.

There’s an excellent book written by Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit. In this book, he writes:

“Change might not be fast and it isn’t always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped.”

Your habits are linked to achieving your fitness goals

The reason why we do most things is because of habits. If we have a cookie at 3.40pm every day, it means that it has become a habit. The same goes for having coffee at a certain time.

We normally associate rewarding ourselves with some type of action. As an example, you might stop for coffee on the way into work and order a muffin with it.

The muffin is a source of distraction for the hours of work that lie ahead or the stressful upcoming meeting. The muffin is the reward you associate with a certain action. 

Create new rewards for fitness goals (and other health goals)

You can break this habit if you set up a reward for avoiding that certain morning muffin. Food rewards are not usually a great choice of reward when it comes to achieving your health and fitness goals.

If you want to know how to reward yourself for meeting goals, start by thinking of other things that you enjoy (non food rewards). What is a healthy reward? Try these alternative ideas for exercise incentives and rewards:

If you enjoy meditating or a certain song, you can reward yourself with these things instead. You could treat yourself with five minutes of meditation or you could listen to your favorite song before driving into work. Small rewards for yourself can make a big difference. 

Rewards in the corporate world

To understand if rewards work in fitness, think about well-known companies you may be aware of. All of them have a rewards or loyalty program, right?

In the US, Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks and Target do rewards well. The more products you purchase, the more rewards you will get. These come in the form of more products, or cash incentives. 

Rewards are used by corporate companies to get you to remain loyal. Soon enough people like you have already created a habit of buying a Dunkin Donuts Iced Coffee from your mobile app, on a daily basis. 

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Rewards in the education system

When coming to an analysis of a certain topic it is sensible to look at various fields. We know rewards are used in retail. But even in education systems, they are prevalent.

Nearly all schools have a reward system of some sort in place. If a student does all their homework they get to choose or are given a pre-selected reward, of some type. 

What does the research say about rewards?

Not only is it important to reward people to create these habits but the timing of when these rewards are distributed are just as important (if not more).

According to a recent study by Cornell researchers Kaitlin Woolley and Ayelet Fishbach published in the Journal of Personality  Social Psychology, people who received immediate rewards, on a frequent basis for completing smaller, meaningful tasks reported more interest and enjoyed the tasks they were doing, compared with people who received the rewards after a long pause.

Think about the number of dissatisfied people regarding their jobs. The US pays semi-monthly to try to get more motivation from their workforce, in comparison to the way workers from the UK are compensated.

Rewards for fitness goals: Ensuring there is an effective reward system in place

For rewards to fully work, they must be structured and well thought out. They need to act as a catalyst for change. Some of the most important people in shaping these habits are personal trainers, online health coaches or gym experts.

Personal trainers often use exercise plans and fitness routines but some of them are now using online training software for personal trainers that have rewards built in. Using technology, they are now using cues and offering shorter-time rewards for their clients to achieve their fitness goals.

Weight loss rewards become possible through habits

However, for people to keep that weight off it’s all down to creating habits. The rewards offer an incentive not to keep the weight off but to create the actual habit.

Over time your rewards for fitness goals can be updated. Rewards for weight loss goals or other health and fitness achievements can include things like enjoying a staycation or buying a new workout outfit (some people are also buying in-home devices like Peloton).

It is always important to remember that rewards that are based on a certain event, hardly ever work in the long term. For example, there are a lot of times a woman loses weight for her wedding. Soon the weight just piles all the way back on. The cause of this is that the reward was wrong. The incentive to lose weight was only associated with that one event. 

Rewards for fitness goals – the bottom line

Whilst rewards do work, the way they are utilized and implemented is important for them to achieve the desired outcome. 

Do you give yourself rewards for fitness goals or other health-related goals? Please leave a comment below! Let us know whether a personal reward system has been helpful for you when working towards your health and fitness goals.

Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase after clicking on one of these recommended service provider links, like an insurance broker, or a travel agent, I may earn a commission – at no extra cost to you. [For my full disclosure, please see my DISCLAIMER page].

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How about sharing your own thoughts?

What actions might you take next? What questions do you have?

Leave a comment below to let me know what you think of this post.

Rehan Sajid


  1. Elom Tino Carter

    Really like this article as i just launched my wellness -lifestyle app that rewards users for walling more , this article is a proof that we were right . We launched last year , so far we are gathering close to 10k users without a single Ad.

    • Elly McGuinness

      Glad to hear you enjoyed the article and that your app is getting lots of success:-)


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