The opportunity to participate in wellness games –either in individual or team challenges – is one of the most popular trends in the industry these days… and certainly the most fun! Whether it is a corporate walking program with personal pedometers & virtual goals, or a points-based program where participants track their habits (ounces of water, cups of fruits & vegetables, etc.), these “healthy competitions” are setting new standards of participation and engagement.
And it’s no wonder. As we learn more about social dynamics and the impact of one’s social network on health, it is becoming increasingly clear that in order to turn the tide against our poor lifestyle habits, we need a little help from our friends. And where better to do this than in the place where we spend more than ½ of our waking hours?
The most successful wellness competitions we’ve seen blend a sort of gentle peer pressure and public accountability, along with positive encouragement and learning tools. In these programs, the goals are easily accessible for participants of varying physical abilities (i.e. minutes of exercise rather than distance achieved), and everyone who participates and meets some sort of baseline goal receives a reward. Special recognition can go to top results, top improvements, or random drawing from all who met the baseline goal. The important thing is to keep everyone engaged, and not simply rewarding the marathon runners who are already achieving top marks.
Speaking of rewards, pay careful attention to design. Biggest Loser competitions, although popular, often only focus on short-term results, and result in long-term gains (of the wrong kind). We have seen first-hand countless of these contests where the winner gains back all of the lost weight (and then some) within 6-12 months… making them the real loser in the long run, and embarrassing them in the process. In addition, it is important that the rewards not become the focus of the game, lest they overshadow an individual’s all-too-delicate intrinsic motivation.
By the way, a lot of people wonder whether the honor system used in most of these programs can be relied upon. From what we have seen, over-analyzing the potential for “cheating” in these types of programs pretty much misses the point. The peer pressure factor alone will probably take care of most of it, and if the rewards are not the focus of the program, then the inclination to “cheat” won’t be as great… nor inflict damage in case of the odd exaggerator.
Bottom line: the key to success with a wellness competition is to just have fun… and let the social aspects of the program do the heavy lifting!