The Mother City is home to the best drivers and the most frequent exercisers in SA, according to the latest research from Vitality, the incentive scheme managed by SA’s biggest medical scheme administrator, Discovery Health.

Vitality pioneered a rewards model that draws on behavioural economics to nudge its members towards a healthier lifestyle with incentives such as free coffee, cheap gym membership, discounts on fitness gear, and cash-back offers on healthy food items.

It not only attracts and retains members of its partner medical schemes, but also helps keep down costs: prior research has shown members who are actively engaged with the programme are admitted to hospital less frequently and have shorter stays than people who are inactive.

Vitality Active Rewards has 5-million members around the world, 500,000 of them in SA.

Its data shows it has greatest impact among people who are not in great health to begin with: people with complex chronic conditions on average increase the frequency with which they exercise by 26%.

Members who stick with the programme have 14% lower healthcare costs and a 69% lower mortality rate than people who don’t engage with it at all.

Its data also shows that once people get active and start engaging with its programme, they improve their health in other ways, such as quitting smoking and buying more healthy food.

Vitality has seen similar behaviour change among people who join its Vitality Drive programme, which offers incentives for better driving, such as fuel discounts. Its data shows its members have fewer and less severe accidents.

Vitality released its latest figures on driving and exercise to coincide with the launch of a marketing campaign that offers non-Vitality members a chance to try out its rewards programme.

The 10-week Vitality Open programme is a brand-building initiative that aims to get South Africans exercising more and driving more safely, said Vitality head Craig Nossel.

"We have a responsibility to create a greater awareness of exercise and mobilising people to be more active. Ten weeks is enough to shift behaviour, and hopefully we can nudge a lot of people to do so," he said.

Vitality’s latest healthy city index ranks Capetonians the most active, logging more gym visits, daily steps and outdoor activities than residents of other cities. Second was Pretoria, followed by Johannesburg. Bloemfontein was bottom of the pile, with the most sedentary residents, and scored 35% lower than Cape Town.

"Males tend to be a lot more active than females: women aged between 26 and 45 are between 30% and 40% less active than men. You really have a challenge in that age group, but these are things we don’t have all the answers to," said Nossel.

On the driving front, Capetonians scored best, followed closely by Port Elizabeth and Bloemfontein. The worst drivers were in Durban, scoring 11% lower than residents of Cape Town.

Women were on average 10% better drivers than men across all age groups.