How Pokémon Go helps your physical and social health

How Pokémon Go helps your physical and social health

Pokémon Go, the gaming phenomenon sweeping the world, is quickly finding its place as a gamified fitness motivator that gets you out of the house and into the great outdoors. Like most ubiquitous mobile games, it’s fun and addictive. But, this one has an added prosocial, proactive (literally) element. It makes you leave your house. In case you happen to have been just released from an isolated, dark underground dungeon all this while, Pokémon Go requires players, known as trainers, to physically wander around real-world locations in search of Pokémon characters and specific locations called Pokéstops, where Pokéballs and other useful items are collected. The app taps into your smart phone GPS and camera to make Pokémon “appear” against the backdrop of users’ surroundings as they move around. The app even rewards all that walking by allowing you to incubate eggs that hatch only after walking certain distances, the further you walk the more exotic the Pokémon's you get.

This physical element of the game has prompted many users to increase their overall physical activity, turning something usually mundane, into something fun. Some of the earliest data comes from Jawbone, a wearable activity tracker, and says its average self-declared Pokemon Go user's daily step count jumped from 6,000 to nearly 11,000 steps the weekend following the game's July 6 release.

Jawbone Pokemon Statistics
Courtesy of Jawbone

The founders of Cardiogram, an app for Apple Watch that analyzes heart rate data, looked at heart rate and exercise information from 35,000 Cardiogram Apple Watch users, and saw an increase in users’ overall exercise the weekend after Pokémon Go launched.

Cardiogram Pokemon Statistics
Courtesy of Cardiogram

Despite being an ex-gamer myself, having not touched any games in years, I've got Pokémon Go installed in my phone. While I do not actively hunt for elusive Pokémons, I find myself turning it on every once in awhile when I'm at known Pokéstops just to collect items and a few Pokémons. Occasionally just for the fun of it, I even take short strolls to other nearby Pokéstops, since "I'm already nearby". Because Pokémon Go places limits on speed, (You can't collect items from a Pokéstop nor battle in gyms if you are moving too fast) I'm even skipping short car rides in favor of walking to catch wild Pokémons along the way. And I'm not alone. Looking around in parks and malls with lots of Pokéstops, I can see plenty of individuals and couples searching for creatures together. One user I met commented: "I haven't walked this much in years and I personally feel I'm in dire need of exercise yet never had that drive to actually do it. So today is my first day of hunting. Caught a bunch of Pokémons and walked 5 kilometers just so I could hatch an egg!! I feel good and proud of myself."

The benefits are not limited to merely physical health but social and mental health too. Pokémon Go can help strengthen the bond between parents and childrens when both participate in the game. Children are especially estatic when they get new Pokémons which can be location specific, and for most children, the only way they can get somewhere new, is if their parents take them there. To all parents, though Pokémon may not be a long term method for bonding with your whining, computer bound child, it is a great opportunity to start the relationship rolling. A friend of mine said, "My son, 10, will consistently persuade me to bring him out to catch Pokémons. Prior to this, even if I asked him to accompany me out to a cafe, he would choose to stay home on his computer. Now he can't wait for me to get home and go out!"

Twitter is flooded with stories of people lauding the game for getting them out of the house and making it easier to interact with friends and strangers alike. For someone suffering from depression, their motivation level is non-existent. However with a gentle push from a simple game like Pokémon Go, encouraging outdoor activities is a crucial milestones for anyone struggling with depression. Research is really clear on this, that the more you exercise, the more it would help decrease feelings of depression. Add on the possibility of meeting new people and the feeling of belonging in a community really does help. That being said, Pokémon Go can be an introduction to self-care, but it should not be the sole treatment to curing the condition.

Pokémon Go is the perfect example of a fitness and gaming app that comes together and makes something special for users, one that no other has ever really broken through to such a mass audience before in such a compelling way. It really shows its a step towards the right direction, yet with so much more innovation to be done. Even if gaming is not your cup of tea, I encourage you to try it, because if nothing else, it will probably motivate you to go out for a walk.

Happy hunting!

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