In the very short time that Pokémon GO has been available, it has become a gaming and pop culture phenomenon. It's been downloaded on more Android phones than Tinder, is top of the Apple Store app charts, and has been a windfall for Nintendo shareholders.
But we think the real story is in the game's health benefits!
Although the news is full of cautionary tales of dead bodies discovered and traffic carnage, not enough is being written in praise of the app's ability to get (normally sedentary) gamers up and moving around.
The game is an augmented reality app that overlays cartoon “pocket monsters” into the otherwise real world seen through a smartphone lens. Players are encouraged to “capture” the critters – some much more rare than others – as they come across them. The game has millions of players around the world scrambling through their communities in a quest to “catch 'em all.”
All this scrambling about is great for people's health. Physical activity does not have to be rigorous and complex to add years to your life. In fact, a daily brisk walk can reduce your chance of having a stroke, lower your risk of for coronary artery disease and generally help you live a healthier life. The faster, farther and more frequently you walk, the greater the benefits. And Pokémon GO has seen some of its players walk 75 miles in just a few days!
Every little bit helps: data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that 37.9 percent of adults age 20 and over, and 20.5 percent of adolescents age 12 to 19 are obese.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found a strong and definitive connection between walking and creative thinking. Walks in nature and “off the beaten path” – such as the places where “Pokémon trainers” are often sent by the game – were judged even more beneficial.
Perhaps even more important than the exercise the game is sneakily injecting into the lives of its players is its potential mental health benefit. Psychologist John M. Grohol, citing numerous anecdotal tweets from depression sufferers, reckons that Pokémon GO is a boon to gamers suffering from depression, bipolar disorder and social anxiety among other serious and prevalent mental ailments. He notes thae irony of how “hundreds of app developers have tried to develop mood-altering apps by encouraging people to track their mood or providing them with encouraging affirmations” with few of these ever catching on or in use past the first week.
By combining exercise, social interaction, cutting edge augmented reality tech, and one of the world's most beloved cartoon and gaming franchises, “Pokemon GO,” the “accidental health app,” may just be the first health app you'll still be using a year from now.