family exercise

A recent US study determined whether turning family exercise into cooperative games can increase motivation and family exercise levels.

Many research studies that have investigated the connection between obesity, physical activity, and cardiovascular diseases have demonstrated that the majority of adults in the US are not meeting recommended levels of physical activity. This, in turn, increases their risk of developing one of many types of cardiovascular diseases. To try and solve this growing global health issue, researchers have started adding game design features to health interventions or programs that attempt to encourage healthy behaviors such as exercise, a practice known as “gamification”.

These types of new programs make use of the growing availability and popularity of mobile technologies such as smartphones and wearable devices that track the number of steps someone takes.These technologies are making it simpler for researchers all over the world to keep track of and directly measure health behaviors such as exercise levels. Findings from other research studies have also suggested that health behaviors among individuals are affected by the people they socialize with.

Even though more researchers are becoming interested in the potential of using game design features in health interventions, there has been little work dedicated to determining whether these types of interventions work well. The purpose of this study was to test whether including game design features in a health intervention could improve social motivation (the desire to be accepted by and socialize with others), which researchers believed would then increase family exercise levels.

This study was performed in the US and the results were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine. The trial, deemed the Behavioral Economics Framingham Incentive Trial (BE FIT), recruited 200 adults from 94 families. Participants were randomly assigned into one of two groups (one group received the intervention with game design features and the other did not).

The main outcome of this study was physical activity levels and that was measured using a wearable device or an application on a smartphone. Every day a different family member was made the representative of that family and points were lost or remained the same depending on whether that person reached their step number goal.  After comparing physical activity levels between the two groups, the researchers saw that including game design features in this family exercise intervention successfully enhanced social motivation which increased family exercise levels. The results showed an average increase of 1700 steps a day from the beginning of the study was in the intervention group.

Since this study is one of the first providing evidence that game design elements are effective in exercise interventions, it seems that more work looking at the effects of these types of interventions on other physical activity outcomes. Future research could also consider exploring whether this type of exercise intervention could be successful in other cooperative social networks.

Written by Melissa Booker

Reference: Patel MS, Benjamin EJ, Volpp KG, Fox CS, Small DS, Massaro JM, et al. Effect of a Game-Based Intervention Designed to Enhance Social Incentives to Increase Physical Activity Among Families: The BE FIT Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Intern Med [Internet]. 2017;19104:1–8. Available from:

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