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Discovery Vitality: The impact it had on my health

By Isabelle Coetzee

It’s nearly 30 degrees outside, but my windows are closed to prevent further wildfire smoke from entering my bedroom. I’m hopping around, squatting and lunging my way into my “cardio zone” so that I can earn 200 points on Discovery Vitality and meet my weekly activity goals.

Although I’m still on the backend of a nasty stomach bug and my lungs are rebelling against the wildfire fumes, I’m determined to earn my points. If I don’t, I will forfeit a discount on my monthly gym fees, as well as a pick a tile on the “gameboard” where I can earn gold for further rewards.How do Vitality Rewards work?

Having been a member of Discovery Vitality since April 2018, I can confidently say that it pushes you beyond what you thought you’re capable of. This popular rewards programme encourages healthy living by setting up hoops their members must jump through to earn benefits.

There are currently over 1,7 million Vitality members in South Africa, with more than 450,000 registered on the Vitality Active Rewards programme. And since it was launched in 2015, the latter group have increased their physical activity by 25%.

How does Vitality work?

Vitality members need to achieve fitness events, such as logging in to their gym or capturing 30 minutes of exercise on their independent fitness tracker, to earn points.  Each week, they must earn a unique number of points – capped at 900 – to achieve their weekly goals.

In turn, this leads to benefits, such as discounts on their gym memberships and earning gold, which can be spent on small items, such as coffees and snacks, or big items, such as R500 vouchers from Incredible Connection or R100 vouchers from Woolworths. In addition, members also stand a chance to win prizes like international holidays to Australia, or a R10,000 investment with Discovery.

The programme is complex, and it takes time to explore all the opportunities it offers. If you’d like to find out more about how it works, have a look at the following page.

How did my exercise change?

I decided to join Vitality because I’d heard sparkling reviews about its rewards benefits, and I knew that I performed well under pressure. I understood that if I didn’t achieve my goals, I would lose out on great benefits each month.

During my first week, I only needed 50 points to meet my weekly goal. At the time, this was incredibly easy, since I was already moderately active. But this increased to 100 points the following week, then to 150 points the week thereafter, and it continued to rise until it reached 900 points.

At first, I’d procrastinate during the week, knowing I’d be able to catch up on my points right before the deadline. But the more points I had to earn, the earlier I’d have to start exercising – and I eventually realised that doing three one-hour workouts for three days in a row was just exhausting.

I eventually fell into a routine of doing 3 to 4 workouts of 30 minutes each spread throughout the week and I used my successful step goals to make up the outstanding points. This was a lot healthier, and it pushed me to exercise regularly.  

Sometimes I struggled to get enough steps to meet my weekly goals. I remember walking up and down the front of my apartment block at 21:00 one evening to get 10,000 steps before midnight, and another where I walked from one room to the other in my apartment until I hit my step target.

I also went through periods where I simply gave in and decided, “not today, Vitality!”. I knew I would not receive any discounts and I would forfeit my rewards. But I also knew that I would have a new chance to try again the following week.

Some days it’s easier to convince yourself of monetary loss than it is to convince yourself of the importance of being healthy. Overall, Vitality encouraged me to get into a regular and reasonable exercise pattern and stick with it in the long term.

Did my diet change?

Another benefit of being on Vitality is that I’m able to receive up to 25% off its selection of healthy foods at Woolworths – my chosen partner – and 10% off at Pick ‘n Pay – my secondary partner. At the end of each month, I receive an EFT from Discovery returning money I’d spent on healthy food.

I’ve followed a low-carbohydrate, no-sugar diet for many years, so I was already predominantly purchasing products from their healthy lists. However, my own healthy list certainly looks different from Vitality’s. Although I’d be rewarded for purchasing low-fat products, some have an increased sugar content, so I wouldn’t buy these, and I don’t believe it’s healthier than full-fat products.

But overall, I get rewarded for all the broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, peppers, cucumber, lettuce, and tomatoes I buy, which is definitely a worthwhile perk.

Besides this, in order to receive the full benefits of these discounts, each Vitality member must fill in a questionnaire to determine their Vitality Age. It includes questions about a member’s eating habits, stress levels, and exercise patterns. The idea is to show members what they can do to improve their overall health.

In my case, I have a Vitality Age of 28, but I’m only 26-years-old. This is because I do not have carbohydrates, such as breads and pastas, or include fruit in my diet. I found this a little frustrating, because doing this test didn’t offer me any valuable advice. Instead, I felt I was penalised for making what I consider to be healthy choices.

“We recognise that there is always new scientific evidence being reviewed and we make sure that our health promotion policies align with the latest local and international guidelines,” says Craig Nossel, Head of Vitality Wellness.

While referring to my chosen diet, he explains that new evidence may take time to be translated into policy which ensures that sufficient evidence is available to support new, sustainable, and safe approaches.

Defining “healthy food” is challenging because there are so many different schools of thought on what’s considered good and bad. Understandably, Vitality has a conservative definition of healthy food. However, as the programme grows, I hope to see it cater for other healthy alternatives, and lifestyles, as well.

What are the drawbacks?

Members of Vitality must submit a note from a doctor to prove they were sick.

“If a doctor books you off and there are financial implications to this – specifically linked to the monthly payback amounts for the Apple Watch benefit – we will pause a member’s weekly goal so that they are not unfairly treated due to them being unwell,” says Nossel.

I agree that there’s nothing healthy about doing exercise when you’re sick. But there’s also no reason to go to a doctor if you already know what’s wrong with you and how to treat your symptoms. Spending time and money to get a note is unnecessary.

Unfortunately, if people were not required to submit a doctor note, the system may be taken advantage of. But perhaps there are other ways they can cater for sick members who need to take a break from exercising, but don’t have to see a doctor.

I was also frustrated by certain rewards being unavailable at times. I would save my gold over time so that I can claim a higher valued reward. But when I’d saved enough, I found that my chosen rewards partner would no longer be available.

Nossel explains that some rewards are more popular than others and are redeemed at a higher rate and when this happens, it may take some time for these rewards to be topped up by their partners.

When this happened, I usually waited until my preferred partner returned, or I spent my gold on another partner. Although it wasn’t my first choice, I still received my reward and I was at least happy about that.

Ultimately, Vitality is an incredibly unique rewards programme that I intend to continue using.

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