Pokémon Go Out and Be Well

Unless you’ve been living under a rock this summer, you’ve probably heard about the new game called Pokémon Go by Niantic Labs. The free-to-play smartphone game is based off the Japanese franchise in which players collect and battle virtual creatures, called Pokémon. Since its release on July 6th, the game has been downloaded more than 500 million times, quickly becoming the biggest mobile game in US history (sorry Candy Crush fans!).

Despite some of its potential risks—do NOT play while driving!—the game has garnered the praise of many experts as a public health boon. Because the app uses GPS technology, players or “trainers” are encouraged to get out and explore the world beyond their computer screens. Whether it’s hatching a 10km egg, looking for the nearest PokéStop, or hunting that elusive Bulbasaur on the in-game tracker, Pokémon Go promotes a more active lifestyle. In fact, Niantic CEO John Hanke confirmed in August that trainers have walked about 2.8 billion miles while playing the game!

Niantic has been very transparent about the game’s health-related components. As Hanke stated in an interview:

“A lot of fitness apps come with a lot of ‘baggage’ that end up making you feel like ‘a failed Olympic athlete’ when you’re just trying to get fit, Hanke says. ‘Pokémon Go’ is designed to get you up and moving by promising you Pokémon as rewards, rather than placing pressure on you.”

But expanding your Pokédex is not the only reward for playing. Several recent studies have shown connections between a sedentary lifestyle and health risks like cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

And Pokémon Go’s benefits could be more than simply physical. As other studies have shown, physical activity is likely to have a positive effect on mental health—and shows promise in reducing anxiety as well as improving self-esteem and cognitive functioning. Moreover, Pokémon Go’s more social aspects could help prevent feelings of depression and loneliness. And while Pokémon Go is not a substitute for professional mental health treatments, it can encourage players to improve their own wellbeing by being more active and social.

So, for all those active trainers still out to catch ‘em all, here are several tips to promote a healthier way of playing!

  • Start a Poké-running club – Get a group of friends together to go for a run while keeping those cell phones handy. What better way to alternate between sprints and cool-down walks than by synchronizing your run to all the Pidgeys that appear in your path?
  • Meet new people – Socialize with fellow trainers if you feel comfortable. Many impromptu conversations have arisen from comparing caught Pokémon or working together to weaken a gym. (Go Team Mystic!)
  • Explore new areas – Explore a part of the local community that you may not have visited yet—Coker Arboretum, the North Carolina Botanical Gardens, Bolin Creek Trail. The UNC Visitors’ Center even occasionally runs Pokémon-themed tours that introduce students to new areas on campus (there’s one coming up November 4th!). However, be careful to avoid dark or isolated areas.
  • Put your phone down and look around – Although it can be tough to tear your eyes away from that glowing screen, remember to come up every once in awhile for air and to enjoy your surroundings. Even that real-time generated 2-dimensional Pokémon Go map cannot compare to some of Chapel Hill’s fantastic views!
  • Set a time-limit for playing – Even the greatest trainers need to study before taking on the Elite Four (or an impending Stats exam). Use the app as a micro-break during intense study sessions. Or set a time limit for playing the game if you’re noticing that your Poké-jaunts are turning into Poké-journeys.
  • Wear sunscreen and insect repellant and stay hydrated – While summer sadly is behind us, North Carolina is still sunny, buggy, hot, and humid. Take care of yourself if you are going to spend extended time outside.
  • Manage your privacy settings – Pokémon Go got into hot water in July due to its privacy policy for the iPhone, which allowed the game full access to a player’s Google account. The policy has since been amended, but it is still good practice to be aware of and manage how much personal information will be accessible to the game and other smartphone apps.

Are you playing Pokémon Go? Do you have any other Pokémon Go health tips?

Please share in the comments!

Mark C. is the Program Assistant for the UNC Men’s Project at UNC Student Wellness. Read their bio here.


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