A randomized study of reinforcing ambulatory exercise in older adults

Psychol Aging. 2013 Dec;28(4):1164-73. doi: 10.1037/a0032563. Epub 2013 Oct 14.


Many older adults do not meet physical activity recommendations and suffer from health-related complications. Reinforcement interventions can have pronounced effects on promoting behavior change; this study evaluated the efficacy of a reinforcement intervention to enhance walking in older adults. Forty-five sedentary adults with mild to moderate hypertension were randomized to 12-week interventions consisting of pedometers and guidelines to walk 10,000 steps/day or that same intervention with chances to win $1-$100 prizes for meeting recommendations. Patients walked an average of about 4,000 steps/day at baseline. Throughout the intervention, participants in the reinforcement intervention met walking goals on 82.5% ± 25.8% of days versus 55.3% ± 37.1% of days in the control condition, p < .01. Even though steps walked increased significantly in both groups relative to baseline, participants in the reinforcement condition walked an average of about 2,000 more steps/day than participants in the control condition, p < .02. Beneficial effects of the reinforcement condition relative to the control condition persisted at a 24-week follow-up evaluation, p < .02, although steps/day were lower than during the intervention period in both groups. Participants in the reinforcement intervention also evidenced greater reductions in blood pressure and weight over time and improvements in fitness indices, ps < .05. This reinforcement-based intervention substantially increased walking and improved clinical parameters, suggesting that larger-scale evaluations of reinforcement-based interventions for enhancing active lifestyles in older adults are warranted. Ultimately, economic analyses may reveal reinforcement interventions to be cost-effective, especially in high-risk populations of older adults.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / therapy*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Monitoring, Ambulatory / methods
  • Motor Activity*
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*
  • Sedentary Behavior
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Walking*