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How to get paid to exercise

Looking for a way to inspire yourself to exercise? How about putting a little cash on the line? Studies indicate that even a small reward can inspire behavioral change. And when it comes to exercise, that means you'll probably benefit economically, too, since good health saves money on everything from doctor's visits to life insurance.

Such is the raison d'etre of a new website called GymPact, which promises to pay you to exercise -- and charge you when you don't. It's both a carrot and stick approach to get you to the gym, which is often the toughest sell of exercise.

"We've seen really good success so far," says Yifan Zhang, co-founder and CEO. "About 80% of the people who have signed up are hitting their goals."

How does it work? You sign up on their web site, saying how many days each week you plan to exercise and what you'll pay if you don't. The minimum penalty is $5, but one user actually opted to charge himself $100 per miss, says Zhang. The site will ask for your credit card information, which is how you'll get dinged at week's end if you've missed one of your promised days.

You'll also need to download GymPact's free iPhone application, which allows you to check in at the gym, using your phone's GPS. (At the moment, the service is only available for those with iPhones. They're working on an Android app.) When you check in, GymPact will verify that the location is a gym, yoga studio, tennis court - or whatever - and you get credit for that day of exercise.

What GymPact can't do at the moment is provide credit for riding your bike, walking the dog or jogging on a trail, but that's coming, says Zhang. "We're hearing that this is really important to our members, so we're working on it."

But give them time, she cautions. The site has only been live since the beginning of January, though it was being Beta-tested in a few markets for more than a year. And, at the moment, GymPact's entire staff consists of the three founders, who are working nearly round the clock to keep up with the 2,500 people who have signed up so far. "We just weren't expecting this many people to sign up right away," she says.

The biggest challenge, of course, is collecting the penalties and then figuring and delivering the rewards to those who have completed their commitments. In the first two weeks that the site's been fully operational, people who made it to the gym received between 46 and 72 cents per day of exercise. (In other words, if you committed to 7 days and made it every day, you'd score a GymPact payment sufficient to buy a burger at the end of the week.) GymPact finances its operations by charging 50 cents, plus 10%, for each payout. The payout figures noted above reflect what members got, after the fees were deducted.

If you want to try it out, but aren't ready to put your credit card on the line, that's an option too. But, of course, it also means you don't get the payments for success.

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