Adaptive Goals and Reinforcement Timing to Increase Physical Activity in Adults: A Factorial Randomized Trial

Am J Prev Med. 2022 Feb;62(2):e57-e68. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2021.09.014. Epub 2021 Dec 8.


Introduction: Potent lifestyle interventions to increase moderate-to-vigorous physical activity are urgently needed for population-level chronic disease prevention. This trial tested the independent and joint effects of a mobile health system automating adaptive goal setting and immediate financial reinforcement for increasing daily walking among insufficiently active adults.

Study design: Participants were randomized into a 2 (adaptive versus static goal setting) X 2 (immediate versus delayed financial incentive timing) condition factorial trial to increase walking.

Settings/participants: Participants (N=512 adults) were recruited between 2016 and 2018 and were 64.5% female, aged 18-60 years, 18.8% Hispanic, 6.1% African American, and 83% White.

Intervention: Principles of reinforcement and behavioral economics directed intervention design.

Main outcome measures: Participants wore accelerometers daily (133,876 day-level observations) that remotely measured moderate-to-vigorous physical activity bout minutes of ≥3 minutes/day for 1 year. Primary outcomes were between-condition differences in (1) engaging ≥1 bout of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity on each day and (2) on days with ≥1 bout, daily total moderate-to-vigorous physical activity minutes.

Results: Mixed-effects hurdle models tested treatment group X phase (time) interactions using an intent-to-treat approach in 2021. Engaging in any ambulatory moderate-to-vigorous physical activity was greater for Adaptive than for Static Goal groups (OR=2.34, 95% CI=2.10, 2.60 vs OR=1.66, 95% CI=1.50, 1.84; p<0.001) and for Immediate than for Static Reinforcement groups (OR=2.16 95% CI=1.94, 2.40 vs OR=1.77, 95% CI=1.59, 1.97; p<0.01). The Immediate Reinforcement group increased by 16.54 moderate-to-vigorous physical activity minutes/day, whereas the Delayed Reinforcement group increased by 9.91 minutes/day (p<0.001). The combined Adaptive Goals + Immediate Reinforcement group increased by 16.52 moderate-to-vigorous physical activity minutes/day, significantly more than that of either Delayed Reinforcement group.

Conclusions: This study offers automated and scalable-behavior change strategies for increasing walking among adults most at-risk for chronic diseases attributed to sedentary lifestyles.

Trial registration: This study is registered at ( Identifier: NCT02717663).

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Goals*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Sedentary Behavior
  • Walking

Associated data