The Unexpected Health Benefits of Pokemon Go

The mobile game could help you shed a few extra pounds.

The Unexpected Health Benefits of Pokemon Go

Within days of its U.S. release, Pokemon Go exploded in popularity, attracting players of all ages and taking social media by storm.

Pokemon Go uses your smart phone’s GPS to locate you within an “augmented reality,” or a game world that drops virtual reality characters into your actual surroundings—at least according to your screen.

The mobile game, available on Android and iOS smart phones, encourages you to wander and explore new areas so it can detect Pokemon nearby. When you approach one, the app accesses your phone’s camera to reveal the Pokemon right in front of you. Users can then catch, train and battle with the Pokemon they’ve collected.

How gaming can improve your health
Still searching for an excuse to venture out and “catch ‘em all?” Here are 3 science-backed ways playing games like Pokemon Go can support your mental and physical health.

It gets you moving. The social element of video games may be one reason why they’ve helped to combat childhood obesity. Overweight children often face bullying and exclusion, but exercise-based video games may help to break down social barriers and promote active playtime.

One study found that kids who were given video games involving physical activity became more active, lost more weight and achieved lowered BMIs than those who didn’t play the games.

Pokemon Go inspires people of all ages to get out of the house and move. In fact, players are over two times more likely to walk 10,000 steps a day, according to a study presented at the 2017 American Heart Association Scientific Session.

It boosts your mood. A mounting body of research supports the use of video games in the treatment of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Video games can trigger the release of feel-good brain chemicals like dopamine and endorphins. Gaming may also help players build resilience, the ability to recover from adversity, and can create a sense of wellbeing.

Certain games, especially ones involving virtual reality or exercise, can feel like they suspend space and time. This allows players to relax and live in the moment, according to researchers.

Pokemon Go offers all of these features, along with its unique ability to draw people out of isolation and play face-to-face.  

Gaming may keep your brain sharp. Research shows that playing video games can improve attention and processing speed. One long-term study even demonstrated that adolescents who regularly played strategic video games reported improved problem-solving skills and achieved higher grades in school.

Pokemon Go involves strategy and planning. It also exercises your visuospatial skills, or your ability to see and interact with your surroundings, by dropping virtual elements into your world and encouraging you to explore new places.

Health benefits aside, players should always take precautions to ensure their personal safety while adventuring.

What to watch out for
Pokemon Go users in search of their next catch may be vulnerable due to distraction and unfamiliarity with new areas. Other players can drop “lure modules,” or Pokemon collection stops for 30-minute windows, which poses some safety concerns too.  Stay safe by:

  • Frequently reminding children about “stranger danger”
  • Limiting areas where kids can wander, or play along with them
  • Pay attention to your surroundings; watch out for cars, suspicious individuals, water and tripping hazards

As you venture out in search of magical creatures, Pokemon Go can help you achieve your health goals—just remember your personal safety and consider playing in pairs. 

Medically reviewed in February 2019.

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