It is fascinating to see how the world turns. A lament of many over the last decade or so has been that teenagers and children do not get outside to play and spend too much time on screens. This was initially TV and video games and more recently phones.
So it is great to see that technology and being active outdoors are not mutually exclusive. I am of course referring to the latest craze, Pokémon Go. This is based on the characters first created for video games, in the 1990’s. Later it spawned a cartoon series, playing cards and other spin offs.
Like many pop cultural phenomena it had somewhat gone off the boil over the years. In early July the new game was launched in the USA, Australia and New Zealand. The launch in other countries has been delayed by the massive response, which overloaded servers. Within days it had more users than Tinder and nearly as many as Twitter.
In a nutshell, game players with smart phones go out looking for Pokémon’s. These can be tracked with a GPS system and once found they can be “photographed” (screen shot taken) or captured”.
A generation who played the game when younger have picked this up and are off the couch and looking for Pokémon’s. In the US it has led to a significant increase in the number of steps taken by the “average” person each day. Cardiogram is an app for the Apple watch and it tracks some 35,000 users.
The founders of Cardiogram told the Washington Post that within two days of the game launching, the number of people it tracked who did 30 minutes of exercise each day jumped from 45% to 53%. The company does not know who is playing Pokémon Go – it just sees raw data on exercise levels.
Many public health campaigns to get people to “find 30” or “get off the couch” or “be active everyday” have fallen on deaf ears. This is because most public health messages are boring and delivered by people who look miserable. Yet the importance of exercise cannot be understated.
Those who exercise regularly reduce their chances of getting cancer or of being depressed. It helps with weight management, high blood pressure and diabetes. The list of benefits of regular exercise is long.
But the beauty of Pokémon Go is that it gets people outside and is fun. Thus you are covering three pillars of health. On top of that some people are making new friends.
As usual there are po-faced killjoys looking for something to complain about. And yes somebody might walk into a door. So what?
A breakthrough has occurred. Whilst smart phone apps, like fitbit could previously track our activity, they didn’t give us a reason to exercise. This game does.
The novelty will wear off and use will subside in due course. However due to its success there will be more games that combine smart phones and virtual reality with being active in the real world. This will help many people be more active, fitter and healthier.
This is something we can all celebrate!
Dr Joe Kosterich M.B.B.S is an author, speaker, media presenter and health industry consultant, who wants you to be healthy and get the most out of life. Dr Joe also gives practical, motivational health talks for the general public and organisations where he is known as “An independent doctor who talks about health”.
His latest book “60 minutes to Better Health” is available on Amazon.