Combine wearables with competition for best results

Combining wearable fitness tracking devices with competition drives better fitness results.

A new study from researchers at Penn Medicine and Deloitte Consulting LLP has found that when people combined gamification with wearable devices, they ended up doing more exercise.

Around 600 employees from Deloitte took part in the research. It involved overweight or obese participants having step goals to reach and tracking them using a wearable device.

Participants were divided into four groups. One group, the control, only had goals to reach; the other three groups had games that worked with their devices. The games were based around either team support, team collaboration or competition.

“Gamification and wearable devices are used commonly in workplace wellness programs and by digital health applications, but there is an opportunity to improve their impact on health behaviours by better incorporating behavioural insights and social incentives,” said Dr. Mitesh Patel, head author.

The study

The program, called STEP UP, ran for six months and was followed up for three months afterwards. When the researchers looked at the overall performance of the four groups, they found that the three gamified groups had significant increases in physical activity compared to the control group.

Most importantly, the competition group in particular increased its physical activity by 920 steps per day.

In fact, once the STEP-UP program’s gamification was turned off the after the initial six months, the competition group was the only one that continued to exercise, with an average 549 daily step increase compared to the control.

“We found that a behaviourally designed gamification program led to significant increases in physical activity compared to a control group that used wearable devices alone,” said Professor Patel. “During the nine-month trial, the average person in the competition arm walked about 100 miles more than the average person in control.”

As the published study in JAMA Internal Medicine put it: “Physical activity was lower in all arms during follow-up and only remained significantly greater in the competition arm than in the control arm.”

The verdict? Using digital trackers and wearables is a great way to engage with your fitness journey. But adding a competition element is what will keep you hitting those goals.


Patel, M.S., et al (2019.) ‘Effectiveness of Behaviorally Designed Gamification Interventions With Social Incentives for Increasing Physical Activity Among Overweight and Obese Adults Across the United States: The STEP UP Randomized Clinical Trial.’ JAMA Intern Med. Published online September 9, 2019. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.3505

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