Pokémon Go has done little to increase fitness levels, study finds

14 Dec 2016

Pokémon Go player out walking. Image: Wachiwit/Shutterstock

Despite proponents of the Pokémon Go app welcoming its arrival as a chance to increase fitness levels in players, a new study has found that little changed in the weeks that followed.

As Pokémon Go players begin to pick up their phones again to hunt for a string of new Pokémon as part of a major update, new research into the physical effects of the game has revealed some interesting results.

Following the game’s release earlier this year that prompted a craze, pushing it to the top of the gaming charts with millions of downloads worldwide, critics feared that people would hurt themselves walking around, unaware of their surroundings.

But on the opposite side of the fence, a number of people across both the media and health spectrums suggested that the game could actually benefit a person’s health, because it will get them some fresh air and exercise.

However, new research published in the British Medical Journal and conducted by a team from Harvard University has shown that despite an initial boost in physical activity, this quickly dropped off.

According to the team’s research, a total of more than 1,000 iPhone 6 owners – comprising 560 Pokémon Go players and 622 people who did not own the game – had their physical activity tracked during August this year.

Like almost all smartphones on the market, the iPhone can passively record a person’s number of steps each day.

For this study, the researcher looked at the data for the previous four weeks of that month, and the six weeks after they downloaded the game.

Unfortunately for those who thought they might have gotten significantly fitter from using it, the data doesn’t show much change.

Steps increase less than WHO recommended level

In total, Pokémon Go players were found to have taken an extra 955 steps each day on average in the first week of downloading the game, but within the space of six weeks, this had returned to the average number they had before the game.

“The change in number of steps in the first week would translate into 11 minutes of additional walking daily, which is around half of the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendation of 150 or more minutes weekly,” the study said.

Looking at those who did not download the game, no obvious change in fitness was observed, as expected.

The authors of the study however admit that their research did have limitations and did not rule out other potential benefits to come from playing the game.

“The effect of Pokémon Go on physical activity might be different in children, who were not included in our study,” the study concluded. “Other potential benefits might exist, such as increased social connectedness and improved mood.”

Pokémon Go player out walking. Image: Wachiwit/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic