Pokémon Go Forth: Cardiologists, AHA Support Use of Augmented Reality Games That Encourage Movement

When was the last time your phone made you exercise more than your thumb’s swiping skills? Perhaps you got a stretch from attempting that group selfie? Or maybe you ran down the stairs to take an important call before it went to voicemail, elevating your heart rate for about 10 seconds?

For the last 2 weeks, however, millions of people worldwide have been jogging, walking, and stampeding their way around their neighborhoods catching mythical creatures in a game called Pokémon Go.

“Even though it looks crazy, never in my medical career [have I] seen anything mobilize the masses and make people want to walk like this,” according to Christian Assad, MD, a digital health innovator and cardiologist who is currently in private practice in McAllen, TX. “What I see is intriguing and impressive. . . . These guys are actually working out and no one knows it,” he told TCTMD.

An augmented reality app like Pokémon Go, which sends players on scavenger hunts to find rare and desirable characters using location tracking, is a perfect example of integrating “gamification” with exercise, Assad explained. “You can tell a patient they need to diet, exercise, and become healthier, but in the end that doesn’t usually push their buttons,” he said. “There’s something about how they designed this that it’s making people want to try.”

The American Heart Association is equally excited about the potential Pokémon Go has in getting otherwise sedentary people up and moving. An article the organization recently published includes quotes from several researchers who are optimistic about the future impact of this game and others like it.

For those having a hard time understanding the appeal of playing a game like Pokémon Go, electrophysiologist John Mandrola, MD (Baptist Health Louisville, KY), can relate. “The old person in me thinks it’s gimmicky and it’s Mickey Mouse, and people should be doing real exercise, and this is just kind of stupid,” he told TCTMD. “But I have to say that the more I thought about it, I think it might be ok.”

While playing an augmented reality game like this won’t turn any couch potatoes into instant marathon runners, walking a few kilometers to catch a coveted Pikachu “seems better than the alternative, which is sitting in front of a computer in a dark room,” Mandrola commented.

What’s more, some players “may by accident realize that it’s fun and that exercise feels good and that could be a good thing,” he said.

Sedentary behavior is likely going to contribute toward a heavy burden of chronic disease in today’s generation of young people, Mandrola continued. Pokémon Go could help reduce these habits without “too many negatives,” but the issue of poor nutrition also must be dealt with moving forward, he said.

Additionally, though people have reportedly been robbed, fallen off a cliff, and had concerns over identity theft while playing Pokémon Go, Assad said obesity and diabetes that result partly from sedentary behavior should be the bigger concern as “millions” of people die from these conditions annually.

‘Might Be a Good Thing’

Though it’s made our lives endlessly more convenient, technology has contributed toward an overall decline in fitness, Mandrola said. “The first salvo was the remote control on the TV,” he said. “Now it’s basically that on steroids.”

To include routine activity in daily life today, “it’s almost like you have to go outside of technology,” Mandrola continued. “It’s like going backwards.”

Assad admitted that he could see why some would have a problem with games like Pokémon Go. “People will say: ‘This is wrong. Kids should want to go outside just for nature,’” he said. “But we live in a different era. People are using technology in a different way.”

An avid runner and biker, Mandrola said he is generally someone to avoid using technology while exercising, more because of personal preference than anything. However, he could envision himself “prescribing” technology-aided exercise to his patients where appropriate in the future.

“A lot of my job is to get people off of technology and just . . . go for a walk and just go out there. A lot of my patients have arrhythmias and they’re just too wired, physically, emotionally, mentally. I’m trying to get them off that,” Mandrola explained.

But, he said, if technology “can help them be motivated and monitor their fitness and they get positive feedback, that might be a good thing.”





  • Assad and Mandrola report no relevant conflicts of interest.


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