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5 apps that pay you to get active

Susan Johnston Taylor

Whether you’re training for that 5k, committing to daily yoga classes or shedding pounds to be ready for the beach, a number of apps add extra motivation to help you achieve your goal by paying you to get active.

And if you don’t stick to your fitness goals? With at least one app, that could cost you.

Jacquette M. Timmons, a financial behaviorist and author in New York City, uses a financially rewarding fitness tracker through her health insurance provider.

“By giving them access to my fitness app, I can get money back at the end of the year based on the steps I’ve taken,” she says.

Timmons says this incentive-based approach is “a good reinforcement for people who already do something naturally and a good motivator for people who do not, who need to change a behavior.”

Here are five apps and tools that will reward you – or charge you – depending on how well you stick to your goals.

1. Pact: Users make a weekly pact to exercise or eat healthfully, and the app tracks their progress and verifies it using GPS, photos and other services. Fail to meet your pact and you get charged. But if you do follow through, then you get a portion of the money collected from other members who slacked off. Once you accumulate $10, you can withdraw your earnings via PayPal. Available for iOS and Android.

Quick tip: If you need a break, you can schedule one before a new pact begins. Or if you run into medical issues during a pact and can’t continue, contact support so you don’t get charged.

2. Sweatcoin: Using a combination of GPS and step-tracking, Sweatcoin rewards users for walking outdoors (indoor steps do not count). Sweatcoins can later be redeemed for goods such as fitness trackers or donated to charity. Available for iOS.

Quick tip: Under the free Mover plan that I’m using, Sweatcoin will convert and credit me for up to 5,000 outdoor steps per day. Users can pay more to convert up to 20,000 steps a day, but I don’t think it’s worth paying for (many of my steps are indoors due to the Texas heat and spring allergies). Since joining in February, I’ve logged 151 sweatcoins (1,000 outdoor steps = .95 sweatcoin), which is more than enough to redeem for an on-the-go tea brewer. I’m going to let my sweatcoins keep accumulating!

3. Achievemint: Achievemint syncs with other apps such as FitBit, MapMyRun and Jawbone, so users can earn points for steps, healthy eating, taking surveys or logging food. Ten thousand points equals $10, and there’s no limit to the number of points you can earn, although points expire one year after they’re earned. Available for iOS and Android.

Quick tip: You need to be a serious mover for this app to pay off! I earn around 200 points most weeks (for instance, on a recent day 9,347 steps earned me 25 points and a health-related tweet earned me 6 points). Since joining at the end of December, I’ve made it just under a third of my way to a $10 reward. Still, barring any syncing issues, you can basically set it and forget it.

4. Perkville: Several gyms and fitness studios use this app to incentivize member attendance. Every time I scan my member tag at my gym (Plant Fitness), I earn 3 points and an extra 25 points if I visit at least eight times per month. Once I collect enough perks, I can redeem them for things such as a free month’s membership or sports drinks.

Quick tip: Make sure your card actually scans each time you time. During one month when I was traveling a lot, I carefully scheduled just enough workouts to get my 25 bonus points. But I realized afterward I never got a confirmation email, and my visit didn’t count. At least I got the health benefits of working out.

5. Walk for a Dog by Wooftrax: Instead of earning money or virtual currency to put in your pocket, users log walks and earn donations for the animal rescue of their choice. The app is supported by advertising and sponsors, and while the idea is to walk an actual dog, you can also log solo walks or walks on a treadmill (assuming you have an iPhone 6 or greater, since it uses the phone’s internal motion sensor). Available for iOS and Android.

Quick tip: Remember to click the Start Walking button so that your walk is successfully logged for your chosen animal rescue. You can also see your impact over time, including the number of miles and walks logged.

To be clear, we’re not talking big bucks here. No fitness app is going to magically pay your mortgage or save every stray dog, but smaller incentives may be more effective at changing behavior. Big cash prizes may motivate people to cheat.

“If the incentives are too good, you’re not really creating a framework and an environment for someone to have sustainable change,” Timmons says. “You’re just encouraging a momentary change.” Picture the person who gets in shape to run a road race with friends, then lapses back into a couch potato once that external accountability disappears.

But for people who want ongoing reinforcement or long-term behavior change, these little added financial incentives could help achieve those goals.

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