Why go on a low-calorie run when you can get a penny for squatting?

The simple act of lining up pennies in order to claim a penny for squatting got thousands of people to go on their lowest weights, research suggests.

The humble penny started life as an administrative task in 1890, and was used to generate sales rather than raise cash for charities, so Oxford University researchers wondered if the classic penny-squat could be an incentive to exercise.

Research leader Stephen Ellis said the penny has become a “cult classic”, with legends surrounding it. “At university the penny is presented with an artsy present, usually with a glass of wine to enhance their appearance,” he said.

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A small experiment in 2014 saw a crowd-funding campaign for pennies, an idea inspired by comedian Stephen Fry. About 120 minutes later the researchers were able to match the amount spent on the initial project with the number of squats performed. They then added 48 hours to the experiment to see if the effect was sustained.

The researchers found that both the number of squats and the amount spent rose almost 30% among those who were awarded pennies.

Ellis said they “completely erased” the effect of other factors that might have affected exercise, such as injury and weather conditions.

He said that in the 14 trials performed, the researchers found no significant association between the amount of pounds spent on pennies and the number of squats performed, possibly indicating that the effect is mostly due to its association with a pleasant environment.

The team is now researching whether the penny may have a similar effect on other kinds of donations. They will also look into whether people are moved by pennies alone.

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