DURHAM, N.C. — Pokémon Go spurred millions of people to collect virtual monsters through the smartphone app and got many of them up and walking.
A small Duke Health study suggests the game might have had a health benefit for doing just that. Some users added thousands of steps a day, suggesting that it’s possible to design fun ways to increase physical activity.
“Lack of enjoyment and lack of time are the most common reasons for not being physically active,” said lead author Hanzhang Xu, a Ph.D. student at the Duke University School of Nursing. “So incorporating physical activity into the gameplay on mobile devices could provide an alternative way to promote physical activity.”
The Duke team recruited 167 iPhone users who had played Pokémon Go in July 2016 according to a news release from the university. The researchers designed an online survey and asked participants to provide screenshots of their daily steps reported by the iPhone Health app between June 15 and July 31, 2016. Researchers then compared their daily steps before and after playing Pokémon Go.
Researchers found that participants were twice as likely to reach 10,000 steps per day after playing the game than they were before they began playing. Before playing Pokémon Go, the participants reached 10,000 steps about 15.3 percent of the time. After beginning to play the game, they reached 10,000 steps about 27.5 percent.
The findings were particularly encouraging among participants who had low activity levels or were overweight before playing Pokémon Go, with these players adding nearly 3,000 steps a day after playing the game.
“We think our study could have implications for the design of other digital health interventions that encourage people to exercise more,” Xu said.
The findings of the study were presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention/Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health meeting in Portland, according to a news release from Duke.
In addition to Xu, study authors included: Ying Xian, Haolin Xu, Li Liang, Adrian F. Hernandez, Tracy Y. Wang and Eric D. Peterson. The study was funded by the Duke Clinical Research Institute.