Games like Pokémon Go get a welcome from cardiologists

29th July 2016

The new app Pokémon Go, which gets players on the move, has been welcomed by some cardiologists in America.

The mobile app, which was released earlier this month, has already been downloaded more than 15 million times worldwide and is reportedly on more than 10 percent of all Android phones.

“There's already clear evidence that people are walking more each day while using it,” Dr Wei Peng told the American Heart Association’s (AHA’s) online news pages.

Dr Peng, an associate professor at Michigan State University, studies the benefits of using video games and interactive media to promote health. She said the game could be especially effective at getting people who live sedentary lifestyles to become more active.

The app works by allowing GPS to track the gamer’s location, which in turn moves the player’s avatar the same distance on the in-game map.

It’s been reported that since the app’s release, shopping centres, parks and public areas have been busy with groups trying to catch virtual creatures from the Pokémon franchise that appear in the game.

Some components of the game, such as the egg incubators, require some movement or walking. Other parts require people to go from place to place to capture the creatures.  The game also encourages community spirit with landmarks that players designate and others can visit. One stop is a memorial for Louis Russell, the 34th heart transplant recipient, at the AHA’s national headquarters in Dallas.

Dr Peng said the game offers multiple benefits, such as increasing physical activity, increasing social interaction and even just being outdoors.

“Even though it looks crazy, never in my medical career have I seen anything mobilise the masses and make people want to walk like this,” said Dr Christian Assad, a digital health innovator and cardiologist in private practice. “You can tell a patient they need to diet, exercise, and become healthier, but in the end that doesn’t usually push their buttons. There’s something about how they designed this that’s making people want to try.”

“We’re hearing that the game appeals to people who are unfamiliar with the Pokémon franchise and who don’t typically play active video games,” said Dr Debra Lieberman, from the Centre for Digital Games Research at the University of California.

Drs Peng and Lieberman both expect the popularity of Pokémon Go to inspire other companies to develop other games involving physical activity that is tracked by GPS.

“If people are being safe and playing in moderation, the game could bring tremendous benefits, such as fun, game challenges, beloved characters, social interaction, and physical activity,” Dr Lieberman said, “just as long as they also spend some of their time looking up from their screens.”

Electrophysiologist Dr John Mandrola, from Baptist Health in Louisville, said some players might realise by accident that exercise was fun and felt good, and that could be a good thing. He said he could in the future see himself “prescribing” technology-aided exercise to his patients where appropriate.