New research funded by the Duke Clinical Research Institute suggests that playing Pokémon Go may increase user’s daily steps, especially among young adults with low physical activity levels or those who are overweight or obese.

Pokémon Go is an augmented reality smartphone-based app that allows players to walk around their environment and virtually catch different Pokémon – or “Pocket Monsters” using the camera on their phone.

Players are required to walk specific distances to hatch different Pokémon eggs – 2km, 5km and 10Km eggs – and to walk around and explore new areas to find terrain-specific Pokémon. As the game progresses players level up by catching Pokémon and partaking in gym battles. Players are rewarded by visiting real-life landmarks, such as a statue in a park, which in the game are Pokéstops that release special items.

The game broke download records when it was released in July 2016 and, although like other popular apps user interaction has declined since its release, there are still a number of global fans playing daily to try and “catch them all.”

Despite health benefits being evident from when the craze first began, few official studies have examined whether playing the game can increase an individual’s level of physical activity. This led to a graduate student at Duke University School of Nursing in Durham, North Carolina, Hanzhang Xu, and her team initiating a study to find out.

“We wanted to determine if Pokémon Go can provide an enjoyable way to engage people in regular physical activity. Our findings suggest that active-play games, such as Pokémon Go, may encourage people who live sedentary lifestyles, who otherwise may not participate in traditional forms of exercise, to increase their physical activity,” said Xu.

As part of the study the researchers recruited 167 iPhone users who had played Pokémon Go in July 2016 and asked them to provide screenshots of their daily steps reported by the iPhone Health app between 15 June and 31 July 2016.

The study found that before playing Pokémon Go participants walked an average of 5,678 steps. This number increased to 7,654 after playing the game, an average increase of 1,976 steps each day.

The study also found that participants were twice as more likely to reach 10,000 daily steps after playing Pokémon Go than they were before playing the game. The percentage of days in which the 10,000 daily step goal was reached increased from 15.3% before playing Pokémon Go to 27.5% after playing the game.

The study also found that participants who had low activity levels before playing Pokémon Go or who were overweight or obese appeared to benefit most from the game. Participants with the lowest physical activity level at baseline and those who were overweight or obese walked nearly 3,000 additional steps each day after playing Pokémon Go.

Xu noted that while the average increase of nearly 2,000 additional steps per day may seem small, previous studies show this increase lowers the risk of having a heart attack or stroke by 8% in high-risk individuals.

“Considering the low level of physical activity in the US, doing some physical activity is always better than sitting on the couch,” said Xu.

“While current physical activity guidelines recommend activity such as running or swimming to promote health and fitness, it should be noted that the best form of physical activity is the one that people will do. We think our study could have implications for the design of other digital health interventions that encourage people to exercise more,” concluded Xu.

The co-authors of the study are Ying Xian, MD, PhD; Haolin Xu, M.S.; Li Liang, PhD.; Adrian F. Hernandez, MD; Tracy Y. Wang, MD; and Eric D. Peterson, MD.

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