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Quick Take: Pokemon Go and ‘Accidental’ Exercising

“For most people, exercise isn’t fun. Despite its various documented health benefits, for many, it’s a necessary evil that they must trudge through. What can make it better is to have a goal and make it social. Pokemon Go provides both. It isn’t all that much different than some running training plans that prepare people to complete a 5k.” — Kevin Gard, clinical professor and director of the professional doctor of Physical Therapy program in the Drexel College of Nursing and Health Professions.

Screenshot from Pokemon Go.

Pokemon Go has combined the trends smartphone technology with the enduring nostalgia of a late 1990s Game Boy game to create a phenomenon that has now involved at least 15 million people.

Users play the game by physically walking around buildings, neighborhoods and towns in movement tracked by GPS, hoping to come across cartoon monsters that are generated on their phone’s screen. Using the phone’s camera, the game portrays the Pokemon in a person’s surroundings in “augmented reality.

Playing the game usually requires a fair amount of walking. Often, players will walk for an extended period of time, sometimes as long as hours, without realizing it.

“For some people, Pokemon Go provides a fair amount of exercise,” Gard said. “If you’re looking for cardiovascular benefits from any exercise program, then you need to raise your heart rate to 60–80 percent of your maximum heart rate. Depending upon your age and fitness level, walking could do this for you.”

So why is it so much easier to accidentally exercise than follow a traditional regimen?

“Exercising is a lot of work that has to be scheduled into people’s busy lives,” Gard said. “For most, exercise is the first thing to be eliminated from their schedule if they get too busy. But inserting enjoyment and the social aspect motivates people to keep exercise in their routines.”

Pleasure is often the key to maintaining a routine. It boils down to the fact that if we like an activity, we’ll do it more.

Further development of technology will be good promoting exercise in more people, Gard believes. Chiefly, technology provides motivating incentives.

“That’s part of the reason why Fitbits are so popular,” Gard said. “People like being able to check their progress toward a goal, whether it’s number of steps, or, in the case of Pokemon Go, number of Pokemon caught.”

Using technology to prompt or aid exercise isn’t just an individual thing, either. Gard said that physical therapists now use electronic games to help patients work on balance and coordination.

“Using these games provides the same incentive that Pokemon Go does — a goal that is fun to achieve,” Gard said. “Physical therapy offices can even make the activity social as patients ‘compete’ for higher and higher scores.”

For now, Pokemon Go is dominating. Technology in exercise has tons of room to grow, but it remains to be seen whether Pokemon Go will have staying power.

“Pokemon Go, because it’s on your phone, provides a consistent reminder to play. What is still to be determined is how long that reminder is effective,” Gard said. “Will people get tired of the game and then stop playing? We will see.”

Media interested in speaking to Gard should contact Frank Otto at 215.571.4244 or

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