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Pokemon Go - The Fitness Phenomenon

Pokemon Go - The Fitness Phenomenon

Have you tried the latest “fitness app” yet? 

I’m not talking about a new calorie tracker, food planner or exercise log – I’m talking about Pokémon Go. 

Pokémon Go is a brand new game from Niantic for your network-connected smartphone. In a nut-shell, the object of the game is capture and collect tiny “monsters” – and these creatures are liable to be found all manner of literal places in the real world. 

While most of the more popular mobile games are meant to be played anywhere and anytime, Pokémon Go’s GPS-based model inherently requires walking or riding around from place to place in order to capture tiny virtual creatures – and it has all the kids from the late 90’s (and a lot of other decades) are out in force, pacing back and forth and waving their mobile phones around like witching wires.

This has, of course, lead to many unexpected side-effects.


Get off my lawn!

At first, the game took off on social media, with users showing off screenshots and bragging about their catches – or alternately, bemoaning server downtime. The random locations of Pokémon to capture however, quickly brought the game into national media spotlight as players began to go places they shouldn’t, bump into things they shouldn’t, and sometimes find things not meant to be found.

If you haven’t already heard, three women playing the game in San Diego park in search of virtual creatures found a very real and very not-virtual dead body.

More recently, two men from California accidentally fell off the edge of an ocean bluff while playing the game.  

A 28yr old former marine in Auburn, New York was out hunting for a rare – and particularly desirable – Pokémon called a Lapras. Having hunted the Lapras for some time on foot without luck, he was driving away when he looked down to check if the Pokémon was still on his radar. The next thing he remembers, there was a tree in the middle of his car. Fortunately he escaped with only a broken ankle – and wounded pride.

Cases of trespassing in particular have risen considerably since the game launched.  

In Toledo, Ohio, a young couple has been banned from the local zoo after breaking in during the wee hours of the morning in search of Pokémon. They were spotted on security cameras climbing a fence near the Tiger enclosure shortly before being caught and escorted off the property.

While the wild stories keep coming in, a lot of attention has begun focusing on the health benefits of an app that essentially forces its’ users to go outside and walk around…


Does playing Pokémon really work to improve fitness?

There’s no argument – if you want to be successful at Pokémon Go, you have to GO out and play it in the real world. Unless your plans were to spend an hour at the gym, chances are you’re going to be getting more exercise because of the game than you would without.

While this fact may seem easy enough to take on face value, there are some hard numbers to back it up. You see, many players also have fitness gear. Jawbone UP recently posted data showing that wearers of their fitness trackers who commented about Pokémon Go, showed a major spike in physical activity when the game launched – nearly double the number of steps tracked!

It gets better – the numbers above are targeted to try and only consider Pokémon players. What’s really impressive is that the trend is showing up on the population level as well.

Cardiogram, makers of an app for Apple Watches, just released heart rate and exercise numbers 35,000 Apple Watch  users – and there is a marked upwards trend starting with the release of the game. On the date of launch, 45% of users were exercising 30 minutes or more per day. Two days later, that number had risen to 50% – and 53% the day after that.

“The fact that it’s a population-level effect that’s visible is actually pretty impressive on Pokémon Go’s part,” said Cardiogram co-founder Brandon Ballinger.

In short – the general population as a whole is seeing a measurable, statistical improvement in activity thanks to Pokémon Go.

If only there were a way to motivate weight loss across the general population. Just imagine: Healthcare costs would plummet and lifespan averages would climb like never before.


A word of caution

While the attraction of an addictive game may be enough to get you off the couch and outside walking around, the attraction will eventually fade. If your current lifestyle is an active one, then chasing down rogue Pokémon in the jungle gym of your local municipal park is probably not too far out of the way for you. If you’re more of a couch potato however, you’re very likely to settle back into that routine before long.

James Ivory, a Professor of Communications at Virginia Tech points out that the activity spike will probably be short-lived.

"For the most part, especially after a little while, people live the same lives they've lived before and they just integrate that technology. So people who get a lot of exercise will probably keep getting exercise with this, people who don't might sort of lose interest in the game, people who go do dangerous things might be a little bit careless with this."

Every time you alter your habits, there is a chance they will stick and a chance they will revert back. Typically it takes the average person about three to four weeks to form a habit. 

If you’re part of the Pokémon Go craze and want to improve your health by increasing your activity levels permanently, just remember that habits take time discipline to establish. The game might be fun, and that fun factor might be driving you right now – but the only way to keep that momentum going long-term is to be deliberate and make a conscious decision about it. 

When the Pokémon finally get boring, will you stay on your feet – or go back to the couch?


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