Annals of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 48, Issue 1, pp 92–99

The Impact of Incentives on Exercise Behavior: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials

  • Kelley Strohacker
  • Omar Galarraga
  • David M. Williams
Original Article

DOI: 10.1007/s12160-013-9577-4

Cite this article as:
Strohacker, K., Galarraga, O. & Williams, D.M. ann. behav. med. (2014) 48: 92. doi:10.1007/s12160-013-9577-4



The effectiveness of reinforcing exercise behavior with material incentives is unclear.


This study aims to conduct a systematic review of existing research on material incentives for exercise, organized by incentive strategy.


Ten studies conducted between January 1965 and June 2013 assessed the impact of incentivizing exercise compared to a non-incentivized control.


There was significant heterogeneity between studies regarding reinforcement procedures and outcomes. Incentives tended to improve behavior during the intervention while findings were mixed regarding sustained behavior after incentives were removed.


The most effective incentive procedure is unclear given the limitations of existing research. The effectiveness of various incentive procedures in promoting initial behavior change and habit formation, as well as the use of sustainable incentive procedures should be explored in future research.


Reinforcement Incentive Operant conditioning theory Physical activity 

Copyright information

© The Society of Behavioral Medicine 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kelley Strohacker
    • 1
  • Omar Galarraga
    • 2
  • David M. Williams
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Kinesiology, Recreation and Sport StudiesThe University of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Health Services, Policy & PracticeBrown University School of Public HealthProvidenceUSA
  3. 3.Department of Behavioral and Social SciencesBrown University School of Public HealthProvidenceUSA

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