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The price of not going to the gym

Davina Shinewell

In these financially pressing times, do you ever wonder whether that gym membership you are paying for makes economic sense? Do ever you look at your credit card statements and feel sick with guilt that you may be paying up to $160 month, but only going to the gym maybe 5-6 x per month, if not at all?

Living in Manhattan I understand the time-pressures of trying to balance a job, social life and an exercise routine. A recent article in the NY Times suggests that only few gym members go twice per week. An astonishing one fifth of members pay monthly memberships but do not go to the gym at all. If you are a 4-5 day a week gym junkie, then gym memberships make great sense.

You may enjoy a feeling of community, a plethora of classes and free towels. Some gyms even provide discount yachting trips and trendy workout clothes. If you are in fact a 1-2 x per week gym-goer, it may make more sense to pay for that "pay-as-you-go" yoga or spin class. If this approach is lighter on the wallet, but not enough to incentivize you to exercise there may be another option.

In a recent study by Charness and Gneezy (2008), the authors divided students into 3 groups after giving them a handout on the benefits of exercise.

The study groups were broken down to:

1) $25 to go to the gym once per week

2) $125 to go to the gym 8 more times over the next 4 weeks

3) No money at all

After the payments stopped, those students that were paid the most money continued to exercise twice as often as those who were paid nothing. Perhaps money does work to incentivize people to form new exercise habits? Would you be incentivized to go the gym more often if you could make money? Or would you be disincentivized from not going to gym if it meant it cost you money?

A novel approach to this economic psychology spawned the start-up gym-pact. Gym-pact "incentivize[s] your exercise", allowing you to choose your own goals and participation activity at the gym. You can even create a group to further incentivize your work-outs. When you go to the gym, you are rewarded by those who have not gone.

Personally, I really like this idea as it focuses on the reality of human nature. We all like to be rewarded in some shape or form.

Charness, Gary and Gneezy, Uri, Incentives to Exercise (December 18, 2008). Available at SSRN: or

DellaVigna, S. and U. Malmendier (2006), “Paying not to go to the gym,” American Economic Review, 96, 694-719.

DellaVigna, S. (2008), “Psychology and economics: Evidence from the field,”


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