Want to motivate older adults to move more? Try offering them financial or charitable-giving incentives.

In a 16-week study, 94 adults aged 65 and older were given pedometers and challenged to increase their daily steps by 50%. Participants were assigned to one of four groups. The first acted as a control, receiving weekly feedback on their progress. The other groups earned one of three incentives for each week they met the goal. They received a $20 reward (financial group); a $20 donation to charity (social-goals group); or $20 that they could choose to keep, donate to charity, or split between themselves and the charity (combined group).

All three incentive groups met the step goal on more days than the control group. The financial group took more than double the steps taken by the control group, and the social-goals group eked out a few hundred steps more per day than the financial group. The combined group walked less than the other two incentive groups but still more than the control group.

That said, a 4-week postintervention follow-up found no difference in steps among the four groups, with all three incentive groups dropping back to the same level as the controls.

"Incentive schemes that use donations to a
charity of choice, personal financial incentives, or a combination of the two can each increase older adults' initial uptake of increased levels of walking," the authors concluded.

The study appeared in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (2017; http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2016.11.011).