Pokémon Go Players Walk More Steps per Day

Side Benefit of the Pokemon Go Game May Be Reduced Health Risks

Pokemon Go
Chesnot / Getty Images Entertainment

Can playing Pokémon Go help you reach your activity goal of 10,000 steps per day? The popular phone app Pokémon Go was designed to get players out of the house, walking around, and interacting with the environment. Researchers are finding it is successful in helping people be more active, especially those who were overweight or obese or had low activity levels before they took up the game.

Three studies found significant increases in daily physical activity for players before and after they started playing the game. They were more likely to walk an extra mile per day, reach a goal of 10,000 steps per day, and meet recommended goals for physical activity. The game can be one way to motivate people more in need of physical activity to get moving.

If you wonder whether the augmented reality game is good or bad for you or your kids, consider that a side benefit of the game may be reduced health risks.

Pokémon Go Players Walk a Mile More per Day

A before-and-after study enlisted 167 iPhone users to document their daily step count before and after they began playing Pokémon Go. They shared screenshots of their daily steps as automatically recorded by the iPhone Health app.

Researchers found that their subjects were walking an average of 5,678 steps before they started playing the game. This jumped to an average of 7,654 after they started playing, an increase of an average 1,976 steps.

Players added a mile or more of walking per day, or 15 to 20 extra minutes of physical activity. This increase of around 2,000 steps can be significant in reducing health risks.

The participants were twice as likely to reach 10,000 steps per day compared with their step count before they started playing the game. The players who showed the biggest improvement in step count were those who were overweight or obese and those with the lowest physical activity before they started playing. These groups walked almost 3,000 more steps per day, or a mile and a half. This would be 25 to 30 minutes of physical activity.

Of course, as interest in the game is likely to decline over time, this improvement may not stick. But the game proved to be motivational in introducing the players to being more active.

Pokémon Go Players Boost Physical Activity by 25%

A study of people who wear the Microsoft Band activity monitor and voluntarily share their data with Microsoft found that those who were actively playing the game increased their step count by 1,479 steps per day, which was a 26% increase. That is about three-quarters of a mile of steps, or 10 to 15 minutes of walking. This study had a large control group of 32,000 Microsoft Band wearers for comparison to those identified as likely Pokémon Go players.

The players who were highly engaged with the game were three times more likely to meet official activity guidelines in the month after they started playing the game compared with their previous activity level.

Overweight and previously inactive players increased their activity as much or more than people who were already active.

How Does Pokémon Go Encourage Physical Activity?

Pokemon Go is an augmented reality game app. The movement of the players is logged by the GPS sensor in their smartphone. To find and capture Pokémon, players must walk to certain locations to capture them.

Players also interact with Pokéstops, where they can restock on items they need to capture Pokémon. They can visit gyms where they can train their Pokémon in battle. These can be numerous in urban areas or scarce in rural and suburban areas. Players also get more rewards when they interact with 10 different Pokéstops within 10 minutes, encouraging them to do a sustained walk. In most places, this would require walking a kilometer or half a mile or more.

The Pokéstops are located at places of public artwork and parks. Visiting them can be a form of a walking tour of an area, introducing players to interesting and attractive places where they can walk. The gyms are located at places open for all ages, such as churches, parks, and public buildings. Playing the game encourages the players to know their communities better.

Distance Goals in Pokémon Go

Players also must walk specified distances to hatch Pokémon eggs and the chance to add to their menagerie. The eggs require walking for 2, 5, and 10 kilometers, which equates to 1.2, 3.1, and 6.2 miles. Players can also buddy up with a Pokémon and by walking with them, earn candy that can be used to power up or evolve the Pokémon.

These small distance goals can be very motivational to get the player to walk more. There are speed restrictions that aim to prevent players from cheating by driving rather than walking, running, or cycling. If a player is going too fast, no distance is recorded.

Players get to know how far they are walking and can come to appreciate their capabilities to get around on foot. While they may not have used a pedometer or fitness band, the game itself is keeping track of their activity. Players earn badges for accumulating 10 kilometers, 100 kilometers (62.1 miles), and 1000 kilometers (621.4 miles) while playing the game.

The game added an Adventure Sync feature in 2018, which uses the Google Fit or Apple Health feature that records how many steps users take while carrying the phone. Besides the GPS used to record distance when the app is open, the steps recorded throughout the day (including those on a treadmill) with the app closed now count towards hatching eggs and buddy walking distance. In addition, there are special rewards for walking 10 kilometers, 25 kilometers (15.5 miles), and 50 kilometers (31.1 miles) per week.

Augmented Reality Games May Motivate Activity

Pokémon Go wasn't designed to be a fitness app, but these results are an encouraging side benefit to playing the game. These results point towards the possibility of more games based on augmented reality that will encourage people to be more active. As players tire of one game, they may adopt new games that will keep them moving. One study found that players returned to their usual number of daily steps after six weeks when their interest in the game waned.

Having gotten away from the screens at home and explored local parks, paths, and community features, players may be more likely to get out more often, with or without the game. While Pokémon Go has its own dangers for distracted walkers, it seems to have potentially good benefits for health. As one Reddit user said over 9 months after the game debuted, "At first I was more interested in playing the game. These days I'm more interested in going out for a walk because Pokémon Go made me walk a lot more."

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