ssome of us look at a treadmill, sigh dramatically, and declare, “You couldn’t” Pay me to go to the gym.” However, others can be bribed to train with small amounts of obscure cryptocurrencies.
Those in the latter group are the target audience for earning apps, which reward users with cryptocurrency, non-fungible tokens (NFTs, which are unique digital tokens), or points (like the kind you earn with a credit card) in exchange for sports . For example, on the Sweatcoin app, users earn one cryptocurrency token – or Sweatcoin – for every 1000 steps they take; these can be stored or exchanged for goods or services. Dozens of similar platforms exist and the trend seems to be gaining traction: Olympic athlete Usain Bolt recently announced that he is partnering with the soon-to-be-launched Step app, which will allow users to earn NFTs and cryptocurrency for physical activities such as jogging or walking their dog.
The concept gives new meaning to profit in the gym. “It’s a whole new way to motivate people to exercise, and it’s always great to be rewarded for exercise,” said Kevin Harris, a personal trainer in Redondo Beach, Calif., who has experimented with apps for exercise. like Sweatcoin. “Many people would exercise more if they didn’t think they were missing out on something else, such as work hours or time for rest and relaxation.” Financial incentives make fitness more attractive, he says.
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Stefan Ateljevic, an entrepreneur based in Serbia, used STEPN for months, which rewards practice with crypto that can be cashed out or used to upgrade the app experience. During a time earlier this year when the demand for crypto outweighed the supply, “I was making more than $100 a day” in cryptocurrency, Ateljevic says. “The idea is brilliant because it forces people out of the house, a la Pokémon Go. Nothing is better for geeks, mentally and physically, than to get a good exercise every day.” In addition to earning a decent amount of cryptocurrency, he says, he lost a few pounds and started enjoying exercising.
Move-to-earn apps that reward users in crypto put a new spin on an old concept. Researchers have long been interested in whether financial incentives for exercise are effective, given that only 23% of American adults do the federally recommended amount of aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercise each week. “We have strong evidence that they work,” said Katherine Milkman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School who specializes in behavioral economics and behavior change.
According to a meta-analysis conducted in 2013 in the American Journal of Preventive MedicineFinancial incentives ranging from about $2 to $46 per week increased exercise participation for up to six months and were especially effective for sedentary adults. Other research has shown that consistently taking even small amounts — such as one-thousandth of a cent per step — led to increased physical activity.
A study published in 2021 in Nature found that small monetary rewards, such as those collected through earning apps, can play an important role in motivating people to exercise. In the study, nearly 62,000 U.S. athletes participated in various digital programs that encouraged physical activity. Participants could earn small monetary rewards, such as $1.75 in Amazon points for going to the gym, or 9 cents for returning to the gym after missing a workout. Nearly half of these interventions were able to increase weekly gym attendance at rates ranging from 9% to 27%.
“If you’re already motivated to achieve a certain goal, gamification appears to be an additional motivation,” said Milkman, co-author of the study. “That’s true, even if you’re just earning points, and there’s literally no value. Even symbolic rewards work.”
Milkman predicts that we’ll see more incentives for exercise in the future, perhaps from health insurers. “It seems like an obvious win to offer small rewards for something that is so good for you and should lower costs,” she says.
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But there is a catch. Some cryptocurrency-based move-to-earn apps require an initial investment: for example, you’ll need to spend a few hundred dollars for an NFT in the form of a “digital sneaker.” (Ateljevic remembers spending about $900 on STPN.) These purchases are one way money-making apps make money; the makers of the app usually also get a commission on all cryptocurrency earned.
Research shows that putting your own money on the line actually increases engagement. “We know that losses are greater than gains,” Milkman says. “So I think it wouldn’t hurt, and it might even help.”
But the volatility of crypto makes these apps a gamble when it comes to forming a long-term exercise habit. For example, in May, demand for cryptocurrencies dropped and Ateljevic sold most of its crypto and stopped using the app. Now he’s working out “here and there” but “if you get paid in crypto to do it, it’s so much better.” Another disadvantage of these apps is that most assume a certain dexterity with cryptocurrency and technology. Those who want to try out move-to-earn apps will need a smartphone, maybe a smartwatch, and maybe even a web3 wallet that makes it possible to store, send and receive cryptocurrencies. Such obstacles almost make these apps ineffective in getting a significant portion of the population more exercise. “The more barriers you put up for someone, the more complicated you make something, the lower the usage and the lower the benefit,” Milkman says. That doesn’t mean these platforms aren’t useful, but rather that they may not be universally attractive or effective.
If you’d like to give the concept a try, here’s what to know about three popular money making apps:
After spending more than 20 years in the fitness industry, including working as a personal trainer, Eddie Lester decided to merge his passion for helping people get in shape with his growing interest in cryptocurrency. The result is MetaGym, a futuristic tool launched in 2021 that rewards fitness, sleep and meditation.
For starters, users are equipped with human-like NFT avatars that cost around $100 to $300 and are called MetaGym Buddies. “It’s almost like your gym membership,” Lester says. “Purchasing the NFT gives you access to our platform, which has the earning mechanisms, but also a lot of other benefits.”
After logging in to the platform, connect the app to your smartwatch or other wearable fitness tracker, as well as a web3 wallet. Once the earning mechanism launches in August, users who engage in health activities such as exercising or meditating will earn cryptocurrency tokens that can be used to purchase items such as workout gear or can be transferred for cash.
For example, logging one cardio workout would equate to about 40 “heart rate tokens” or $2-$3, while a resistance workout would yield 20 tokens or $1-$2. Getting a good night’s sleep would set you back another $1-$2. (Lester points out that as cryptocurrency values fluctuate, these numbers could go up or down.)
“There’s obviously the benefit of getting a financial incentive to perform health behaviors — that’s motivating,” Lester says. “But what I’m most excited about is the communities we build. MetaGym has such a strong focus on social support to help people engage in healthy behaviors and develop friendships,” including through a Discord server that users regularly use to converse.
Anton Derlyatka – the co-founder and CEO of Sweatcoin – considers his app the tokenization of movement. It’s a free program that uses gesture verification technology to track daily steps (meaning cheating the system by shaking your phone up and down won’t work).
When he launched Sweatcoin — which Derlyatka says now has more than 100 million registered users — he was determined to build a product that was accessible to people of all fitness levels. His mother, who is 86 and walks only a few hundred steps a day, serves as his litmus test. If she can use the app, he says, anyone can, “The barriers to entry are very low.”
For every 1,000 steps, users earn 1 sweatcoin (minus 5% commission going into the app). These tokens are similar to credit card points that can be exchanged for products, services or coupons, or donated to charity. For example, two coins can unlock a $5 Amazon voucher; 10 coins grant access to 20% off Garmin smartwatches. On a recent afternoon, a user who participated in one of the app’s auctions bid over 32,000 coins to secure a 65-inch smart TV.
In September, Sweatcoin plans to launch a cryptocurrency called $SWEAT. Users have the choice of holding onto their sweatcoins or converting them into a blockchain-powered cryptocurrency.
“The whole idea is, how can we capture the value of physical activity?” says Derlyatka. “Because once we do that and we share it with the user again, it becomes a habit.”
Pedro Rente Lourenço’s background is in biomedical engineering and he has long been interested in improving sports performance. After studying artificial intelligence, he co-founded Dotmoovs, a peer-to-peer sports competition app powered by the blockchain. An AI algorithm allows the app to score all workouts within minutes.
To get started, users download a free app and get acquainted with the program by watching videos of other people performing challenges. “They will see the analyzed videos with our little dots or stick figures on top of people, and they will see their scores and get an idea of what to expect,” says Rente Lourenço. Then you can choose whether you want to play freestyle football (soccer in the US) or dance, and do a solo challenge up to three times a day.
To use more advanced versions of the app, you need to buy or rent an NFT. Once you have one, you can challenge other players (real friends or internet strangers) to soccer or dance matches recorded on your phone. The winner will receive a pool of $MOOV tokens, a cryptocurrency that can be saved, cashed out or used to buy additional NFTs or other prizes. If you rented your NFT for free, you share a portion of your profits with its owner.
“We didn’t want to make another app for just crypto-savvy people,” says Rente Lourenço. “The idea here is that everyone likes to dance and everyone wants to play football. And then when you go into crypto, you can earn more tokens and get more rewards and it’s more exciting, but we don’t want to raise that barrier to entry.”
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