Some of us look at a treadmill, sigh dramatically, and declare: “You couldn’t You can pay me to go to the gym.” Others, however, can be bribed into working out with small amounts of obscure cryptocurrencies.
The target audience of move-to-earn applications is those in this latter category. They reward their users with cryptocurrency or non-fungible tokens. NFTs are digital tokens that are uniquely unique and can be used to pay for goods and services. On the app Sweatcoin, for example, users earn one cryptocurrency token—or Sweatcoin—for every 1,000 steps they take; these can be saved or redeemed for goods or services. Dozens of similar platforms exist, and the trend appears to be gaining traction: Olympic athlete Usain Bolt recently announced he’s partnering with soon-to-be-launched Step App, which will allow users to earn NFTs and cryptocurrency for physical activities like jogging or walking their dog.
This concept brings new meaning to the gains made at the gym. “It’s a really novel way of motivating people to move, and it’s always great to be rewarded for exercise,” says Kevin Harris, a personal trainer based in Redondo Beach, Calif., who’s experimented with move-to-earn apps like Sweatcoin. “A lot of people would exercise more if they didn’t think they were losing out on something else, like working hours or time for rest and relaxation.” Financial incentives make fitness more appealing, he says.
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Stefan Ateljevic is a Serbian entrepreneur who spent many months with STEPN. He earned crypto through the rewards program that allows him to cash out and upgrade his app. During a time earlier this year when crypto demand outweighed supply, “I was earning upwards of $100 per day” in cryptocurrency, Ateljevic says. “The idea is brilliant because it forces people to get out of the house, a la Pokémon Go. Nothing is better for geeks, mentally and physically, than to get some proper exercise on a daily basis.” In addition to earning a decent amount of cryptocurrency, he says, he lost a few pounds and started to enjoy working out.
The move-to earn apps, which offer crypto-based rewards to users who use them, add a modern twist to an age-old concept. Researchers have always been intrigued by whether financial incentives to physical activity work. Only 23% Americans get the required amount of exercise per week. “We have strong evidence they work,” says Katherine Milkman, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania who specializes in behavioral economics and behavior change.
A meta-analysis that was published in 2013 by the American Journal of Preventive MedicineFinancial incentives that cost between $2 and $46 per week were effective in increasing exercise participation. They are especially beneficial for those who live in sedentary areas. Other research has found that consistently making even tiny amounts—like one thousandth of a cent per step—led to increased physical activity.
In 2021, a study was published. Nature found that tiny monetary rewards—like those collected via move-to-earn apps—can play an important role in motivating people to exercise. Nearly 62,000 Americans participated in digital exercise programs. The rewards offered were small, such as Amazon Points worth $1.75 for each visit to the gym and 9 cents per return. Nearly half of the interventions resulted in an increase in weekly gym visits, at rates ranging from 9% up to 27%.
“When you’re already motivated to achieve some sort of goal, gamification seems to layer on extra motivation,” says Milkman, who co-authored the study. “That’s true even if you’re just earning points, and there’s literally no value. Even symbolic rewards work.”
Milkman predicts we’ll see more incentives for physical activity in the future, perhaps from health insurers. “Offering small rewards for something that’s so good for you and that should reduce costs seems like an obvious win,” she says.
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But there’s a catch. Some cryptocurrency-based move-to-earn apps require an initial investment: You might need to spend a few hundred dollars for an NFT in the form of a “digital sneaker,” for instance. Ateljevic remembers that he spent about $900 on STPN. This is one of the ways that apps can make money with move-to earn; app creators often get a commission on any earned cryptocurrency.
Recent research shows that investing your own money actually strengthens commitment. “We know that losses loom larger than gains,” Milkman says. “So I think it wouldn’t hurt, and it might even help.”
But crypto’s volatility makes these apps a gamble when it comes to forming a long-term exercise habit. Ateljevic, for example, sold most of the crypto he owned in May as demand dropped. He also stopped using the app. Now, he works out “here and there”—but “when you’re getting paid in crypto to do it, it’s that much better.” Another downside to these apps is that most assume at least a certain savviness with cryptocurrency and technology. To use move-to earn apps, you will need a smartphone and perhaps even a smartwatch. A web3 wallet allows for the storage, sending, and receipt of cryptocurrencies. Such obstacles all but ensure that these apps won’t be effective at getting a sizable chunk of the population to move more. “The more barriers you put up in front of 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 beneficial, but rather, they may not be universally appealing—or effective.
If you’re interested in giving the concept a try, here’s what to know about three popular move-to-earn apps:
Eddie Lester spent over 20 years working in fitness, and as a personal coach, before deciding to bring together his enthusiasm for cryptocurrency with his desire to help people stay in shape. MetaGym was created in 2021 and rewards meditation, sleep and fitness.
MetaGym Buddies are human-like NFT avatars, that users can use to get started. They cost about $100 to $300. “It’s almost like your gym membership,” Lester says. “The purchase of the NFT grants you access to our platform, which has the earning mechanisms but also a ton of other benefits.”
After logging into the platform, you’ll connect the app to your smartwatch or other wearable fitness tracker, as well as to a web3 wallet. Once its earning mechanism launches in August, users who perform health activities—such as working out or meditating—will earn cryptocurrency tokens that can be used to purchase items like workout gear, or transferred out for cash.
For example, logging one cardio workout would equate to about 40 “heart rate tokens” or $2-$3, while a resistance-training workout would yield 20 tokens or $1-$2. A great night of rest would net you another $1-$2. (Lester points to the fact that cryptocurrency prices fluctuate so these numbers may trend upwards, or downwards.
“There’s obviously the benefit of getting a financial incentive to perform a health behavior—that’s motivating,” Lester says. “But what I’m most excited about is the communities we’re building. MetaGym is so heavily focused on social support to help people form 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—thinks of his app as the tokenization of movement. It’s a free program that uses movement-verification technology to track daily steps (which means that cheating the system by, say, 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 mom, who’s 86 and only walks a few hundred steps a day, serves as his litmus test. If she can use the app, he says, anyone can: “The entry barriers are really low.”
Users earn one sweatcoin for every 1000 steps (not including a 5% fee which goes to the app). They can also be used as credit card points to purchase products, coupons or other services. Two coins could unlock $5 Amazon gift vouchers; 10 coins will give you 20% off Garmin smartwatches. On a recent afternoon, a user participating in one of the app’s auctions bid more than 32,000 coins to secure a 65-inch smart TV.
Sweatcoin will launch a new cryptocurrency, $SWEAT in September. The users will be able to keep their sweatcoins or convert them into a Blockchain-powered cryptocurrency.
“The whole idea is, how do we capture the value of physical activity?” Derlyatka says. “Because once we’ve done that, and we share it back with the user, it becomes a habit.”
Pedro Rente Lourenço’s background is in biomedical engineering, and he’s long been interested in how to improve sports performance. Dotmoovs was founded by Rente Lourenco, an app that allows peer-to–peer sport competitions powered via blockchain. He studied artificial intelligence. The app can score every workout in a matter of minutes thanks to an AI algorithm.
Download the free app to learn more about it and view videos that show other participants completing challenges. “They’ll see the analyzed videos with our little dots or stick figures on top of people, and they’ll see their scores and get a feel for what they should expect,” Rente Lourenço says. You can then choose whether to play soccer (or freestyle) football, or you may dance solo up to 3 times per day.
To use more advanced version of the app, you will need to either buy or rent an NFT. You can use the NFT to challenge others (real-life or online) in football and dance contests. A pool of $MOOV tokens is given to the winner. These tokens are cryptocurrency which can either be stored, cashed out, used to purchase NFTs or prizes. If you rented your NFT for free, you’ll share a portion of your profits with the person who owns it.
“We didn’t want to create another app just for crypto-savvy people,” Rente Lourenço says. “The idea here is that everyone likes to dance, and everyone will want to play football. And then if you do foray into crypto, you can earn more tokens and get more rewards and it’s more exciting—but we don’t want to create that barrier to entry.”
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