Playing augmented reality smartphone games such as Pokémon Go delivers fitness benefits – at least in the short term – for older adults, research indicates.
Pokémon Go, a game in which players must travel to specific locations in their neighbourhood to capture some of the hundreds of cute creatures that feature in the enduringly popular Pokémon universe, was released in 2016.
It proved immensely popular, with millions of people worldwide downloading it onto their phones. US research conducted a few months after it hit the market estimated that American players on average increased their baseline daily step count by 1473 – a boost of 25%.
The researchers, from Stanford University and Microsoft, found that “Pokémon Go has added a total of 144 billion steps to US physical activity”.
Most of the game’s fans were children and teenagers, but a proportion were older adults. Now, research from Japan’s University of Tokyo has found that the fitness benefits extended to this group, at least in the short term.
Scientists led by Kimihiro Hino gathered a pool of 230 volunteers from Yokahama with a mean age of 56 prior to the launch, and recorded their average daily step rate. After Pokémon Go hit the market, 46 members of the cohort started playing it, while the rest did not.
Hino and colleagues continued to measure daily step counts of all participants for eight months after the release.
They found that at the end of the monitoring the players had recorded average step counts of 7903 – 262 more than the non-players, a small but significant result.
On more detailed analysis, the increased activity tailed off at different points for different subgroups. Among full-time workers, for instance, elevated step counts ended around two months after the game was released – and for most players Pokémon Go had largely lost its appeal after three months.
Nevertheless, Pokémon Go players did not reduce their daily activity in response to the onset of winter, in sharp contrast to most of the non-players.
The research was published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.
Andrew Masterson is a former editor of Cosmos.
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