Why you should care

Because the cynical among us believe that cash is king.

Sitting — whether in front of a computer or a TV or, sadly, even while reading — is shaping up to be the single biggest avoidable health risk we face. Which is why there’s been a tsunami of tech products and a growing collection of apps designed to get you off your butt and into high gear. The latest in motivation? Apps that reward your increasing levels of physical activity with something everyone wants: cold hard cash (or at least its equivalent).

FitCoin

With this free app, the more you work out, the more you get paid. Create an account, associate a fitness tracker of your choice (Fitbit, Nike FuelBand, etc.) and then work your ass off. A specially calibrated algorithm converts your expended energy into FitCoins, which are transferred into your digital wallet as BitCoins — the cryptocurrency that is becoming more widely accepted by both online and traditional retailers and restaurants. Chaotic Moon, the Austin, Texas-based company behind FitCoin, claims it doesn’t matter whether you’re lifting weights or running marathons — the app is smart enough to understand both and reward your efforts accordingly.

Pact

Like to put your money where your mouth is? Pact users agree to a financial penalty if they don’t hit their goal, whether it’s food-related (Food Log Pact), eating more fruits and veggies (Veggie Pact) or staying fit (Gym Pact). If you meet your goal, you get paid from a pool of money contributed by those who fail. If you don’t meet it, say goodbye to your cash. “People are two and a half times more motivated by the idea of loss than reward,” says San Francisco-based CEO and co-founder, Yifan Zhang. Like FitCoin, verification for fitness goals is done through supported activity trackers and the free app. For food goals, you upload photos of the food you’re eating, and the Pact community decides if you’re on the level or just faking your way to a payoff.

GOODcoins

When it comes to reaching fitness goals, how do you stop people “from taking the money and undoing the good with it?” asks Toronto-based GOODcoins app founder Ron Dembo. The answer: rewarding achievements with a currency that can be used only for positive purposes. GOODcoins earned via tracking in the free app or the Jawbone UP can be spent only on items that won’t undermine your hard work — such as products that are good for you, or good for the environment (or both!). After all, it doesn’t make sense to celebrate taking 50,000 steps in a week with a chocolate bar, does it?

Are apps with incentives the secret to maintaining a long-term commitment to a healthier lifestyle? Toronto-based personal trainer Cassandra Hope is skeptical. She thinks they “will only keep people temporarily focused,” and that more long-term benefits would be gained if people invested the time and energy to figure out why they struggle to stay consistent with their activity levels.

But as Dembo points out, if being rewarded for a healthier lifestyle with some spending money finally gets you to change your behavior, the long-term payback isn’t going to be measured in dollars and cents — but rather in heartbeats and happiness.

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