Pokemon is a world that has captivated millions across the globe for many years and has been constantly adapted to fit within other popular games. There have been mash-ups between games such as Minecraft and Pokemon known as Pixelmon and not to mention the combination of exercise and Pokemon known as Pokemon Go. You’ve no doubt heard of Pokemon Go, the augmented reality game sweeping the nation. Unlike the older versions of Pokemon which you can download from sites like Gamulator.com, this one is not played on an old Nintendo but on phones and involves going outside into the real world. If you live in any sort of populated area it’s likely that you’ve even seen players out on the street capturing, battling, and training their characters. These players are easy to spot because they are almost always hunched over smartphones interacting with Pokemon characters that appear as computer generated images in real world settings, sort of similar to games like animal crossing, but in real-life.

While at first glance this wildly popular game seems hopelessly anti-social, and in no way good for you, the opposite, in fact, may be true. Many individual players, parents, health professionals, and even hospitals are recognizing the health benefits of this unique game.

The Health Benefits of Pokemon Go

Walking in and of itself for at least 30 minutes a day has been linked to a lower risk of coronary artery disease, stroke, and even death. According to Doctor Mike Evans, walking for just a half an hour every day is the single best health intervention or “treatment” for almost every health condition. Coincidentally, Pokemon Go encourages players to walk (a lot!). Using a smartphone and the Pokemon Go app, players walk around and “hunt” for Pokemon characters on a map that features real-world locations. It’s easy to stack up hours each week wandering through new neighborhoods while finding new characters to add to one’s collection.

Unlike most video games, walking is essential to playing and many Pokemon Go players on Twitter are reporting that the game has given their sedentary lifestyle a much-needed turnaround:

https://twitter.com/Eggs69/status/757122127216582656

https://twitter.com/travelinglens/status/759092499206008832

https://twitter.com/MikeNedza/status/757000559194992640

There may also be mental health benefits to playing Pokemon Go. In addition to the boost of feel-good endorphins that come with walking, Pokemon Go encourages players to get out of the house and talk to other players. While giving the app a test drive I experienced this camaraderie myself. While walking down the street, head buried in my phone looking for a character, a stranger approached and pointed to where I could find him, and even gave me tips for finding more!

Talking to strangers in public may seem like a small thing, but it isn’t always easy, especially when one is battling social anxiety and/or depression. Pokemon Go makes the prospect of stepping outside your door fun and players are crediting it for improvements to their mental health:

https://twitter.com/Brandon21Evans/status/752536862544191488

https://twitter.com/delasondas/status/759246679963004928

https://twitter.com/DoctorSiggy/status/756951834552594432

Pokemon Go in Hospitals and Treatment Centers

Pokemon Go is not just a way to get kids walking and socializing more. Hospitals and physical therapy offices have started to leverage the game as a tool to help children with serious injuries and health conditions.

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Michigan encourages patients and guests to play Pokemon Go. Hospital caregivers say it’s a great motivator for getting kids to move. According to J.J Bouchard, digital media manager and certified child life specialist at C.S. Mott , “If I’m trying to get a kid to raise his arms up or to squat down I can say, ‘hey, the guy’s a little bit lower – can you reach down and get him?’ And that’s just a really tricky way that physical therapy or occupational therapy can get a kid to do the exercises that he was screaming and crying about 5 minutes ago that he didn’t want to do. But now, not only does he want to do it, he’s trying to catch that Pokemon!”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ksFwB0Ol8k8

Play it Safe

With hype about the game reaching record levels, it’s easy to overlook potential safety and privacy risks. Among the numerous positive Pokemon stories, there are also distressing reports of people who have gotten into car accidents, been robbed, and even stumbled upon dead bodies while playing the game.

Hospitals and other institutions have also cited possible privacy risks associated with Pokemon Go. The Miami Herald reported that the University of Kansas Hospital issued a plea to the public, invoking HIPAA and other safety concerns:

“Playing Pokémon Go…poses a real risk to patients, visitors and employees, according to a memo sent to employees of University of Kansas Hospital. The statement identified risks to physical safety, patient privacy, player privacy, computer security and personal safety. The hospital also is asking Pokémon Go to remove PokéStops-places where players can cash in on extra Pokéballs-from the hospital’s property, and it is asking players not to hunt Pokémon on hospital grounds.”

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital combatted these concerns by setting some guidelines to ensure that patient privacy and safety remain intact. The hospital’s official Pokemon rules cover everything from picture taking, private health information, appropriate places to “hunt” as well as maps and hints on the best places to power up in the hospital.

No matter where you stand on privacy concerns, safe and respectful game play should be paramount to everyone who decides to try this viral sensation. Cedar Park Family ER has posted a few common sense tips to safeguard children and families who are interested in the game and Family Gamer Radio has created an excellent safety video for parents who have decided to let their kids play:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07-CE9JBUTg

How to Get Started with Pokemon Go

If you’re interested in getting started here are few Pokemon Go resources you might find handy:

Pokemon Go is not a panacea for any and all health problems, but for many it’s a positive boost toward healthier habits and positive self-care. Its viral success might just be the inspiration many need to get out and get moving.

Have you tried playing Pokemon Go? What do you think?

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