Pokemon GO 'has long-term health benefits'

Do you play Pokemon GO?
Do you play Pokemon GO?

Playing Pokemon GO ups your exercise levels even after you stop playing regularly, according to new research.

A study found the game that sparked a worldwide craze more than doubled exercise levels among participants.

And they were continuing to spend almost as much time on their feet, instead of their backsides, weeks later - despite spending less than half the time on Pokemon GO.

Scientists say the problem with many apps is they promote sedentary activity by getting people away from outdoor activities.

But they believe playing physically-interactive, smartphone based video games like Pokemon GO may help promote walking and reduce sitting in younger people..

Prof Jacob Barkley, an expert in paediatric exercise, said: "While the largest increases in walking and decreases in sitting occurred during the first week after downloading, when the game was new to the user, those positive effects largely persisted weeks later.

"It is possible that games like Pokemon GO may help people initiate a positive health behaviour change, such as more daily walking and less sitting."

In Pokemon GO, players move around capturing animated creatures on smartphones and other mobile devices.

The game became front page news when it was released amid a wave of publicity last year.

It sent crowds hiking through parks, meandering into streets and walking for miles in search of Pokemon, cute little digital characters that appear in real locations on a smartphone.

Now, to mark its first anniversary, the researchers have found capturing the little monsters isn't just fun, but good for players' too.

Until now, few studies have examined whether playing the game can increase a person's physical activity levels.

Prof Barkley, of Kent State University, Ohio, said too often we sit at a desk all day and spend countless hours in the car.

With a smartphone glued to our hands, it is also too easy to spend our free time watching videos, playing games and browsing the internet.

Such sedentary behaviours cause us to sit more and exercise less - a lifestyle that has been linked to a host of life threatening illnesses including heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

But Prof Barkley and colleagues found playing a popular physically-interactive, smartphone based game, like Pokemon GO, actually promotes exercise.

They discovered its remarkable ability to increase walking and reduce sitting among 350 college students.

The participants were asked to report their physical activity and sedentary behaviour the week before downloading Pokemon GO, the week immediately afterwards, and again several weeks later.

Results showed during the first week, undergraduates walked more than twice as much, a 102% increase, and spent 25% less time sedentary.

And when comparing behaviour several weeks later, walking and sedentary behaviour were still 68% greater and 18% lower, respectively, than prior to downloading.

This was even though frequency of game play had fallen by a hefty 58%.

Prof Barkley said: "Playing Pokemon GO was associated with increased self-reported walking and decreased sedentary behaviour.

"Such games hold promise as technology that may promote physical activity and discourage sedentary behaviour."

He said the use of smartphones is widespread in college aged adults and, despite their portability, they fuel sedentary lifestyles.

Research has also shown they reduce walking speed and exercise intensity, affecting heart and lung fitness.

Prof Barkley added: "If game designers can sustain game play and physical activity over time then physically interactive videogames designed for cell phones such as Pokemon GO have the potential to not only be profitable but also promote greater walking and less sedentary behaviour."

The study published in the Games for Health Journal followed research two months ago that found Pokemon GO users are twice as likely to reach their 10,000-steps-per-day goal.

And couch potatoes or those who were overweight or obese before playing Pokemon GO appeared to benefit most from the game.

Before playing Pokemon Go, the participants walked an average of 5,678 steps. But the number soared to 7,654 after playing the game, an average increase of 1,976 steps each day.

The researchers also found that participants were twice as likely to reach 10,000 daily steps after playing Pokemon GO than they were before playing it.