Those searching for a fun way to boost their exercise levels might need to look further than the next PokéStop.
While Pokémon Go initially raised hopes of an innovative, albeit inadvertent, approach to encouraging individuals to walk further, new research suggests such effects are short-lived.
“We found that playing Pokémon Go moderately increases [players’] physical activity but the effect was not sustained over [a] six week period,” said Katherine Howe, co-author of the research from Harvard University.
Writing in the British Medical Journal, Howe and colleagues from the US and Sweden describe how they sought to unpick the impact of augmented reality games on physical health by recruiting both players and non-players of Pokémon Go through an online survey.
In total, 560 avid Pokémon Go players – defined as being those who had reached level five or higher – and 622 individuals who had not downloaded the game took part in the study during August 2016. All of the participants were between 18 and 35 years old and had an iPhone 6.
The smartphone automatically and passively records steps, allowing the researchers to compare the activity of participants four weeks before players downloaded the game with their number of steps taken during the six weeks after. “It is very objective data – it wasn’t self-reported so we really had an accurate reading of how many steps the users and non-users of the game walked,” said Howe.
The results revealed that before downloading the game both non-players and soon-to-be players took a similar number of steps a day, averaging 4126 and 4526 steps respectively. However, after players had downloaded the app, the two groups diverged.
While non-players took a similar number of steps per day throughout the whole period of interest, players of Pokémon Go took, on average, 955 extra steps a day in their first week of chasing digital creatures. “It translates to around 11 minutes additional walking per day, which is about half of the World Health Organisation’s recommendations for walking [of 150 minutes per week],” adds Howe. But the effect was short-lived – within six weeks the number of extra daily steps among players had returned to pre-download levels.
While the study did not probe the reasons behind the drop-off, Howe suggests it could be down to a combination of two factors – some players quitting the game completely and remaining players taking fewer steps.
Despite the findings, Howe remains optimistic that development of games like Pokémon Go could a have positive impact in myriad ways.
“There is a huge potential for augmented reality games to be beneficial for our health – they give us a reason to go outside, walk and socialise,” she said. “So I think there is a huge potential to develop these games to not only increase physical activity but also boost mental wellbeing, mood and social interaction for people of all ages.”
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