Get up and Pokémon Go?

PokemonGo-wikipedia-300x225.jpgIs Pokémon Go a new technique to promote exercise in the fight against anxiety and depression?

It is common knowledge that exercise is a great way to improve not only physical health, but mental health as well. Depression and anxiety often improve with regular exercise, but the difficulty in prescribing exercise has always been how to motivate and sustain this aspect of wellness improvement – especially for those who may suffer from social anxiety or are not prone to exercise in the first place.

There is a new motivator on the rise called Pokémon Go, and it is taking the nation (and world) by storm. Despite the negative stories warning of potential liability risks, the augmented reality game is motivating many people to start moving.

When you have depression and/or anxiety, exercise may be the last thing you would consider doing. But once motivated, exercise can make a big difference in how you feel.  And for many who suffer from social or other forms of anxiety, finding the strength to motivate yourself may seem nearly impossible.

On the Pokémon Go website, the creators state:

“Get Up, Get Out, and Explore! Get on your feet and step outside to find and catch wild Pokémon. Explore cities and towns where you live—and even around the globe—to capture as many Pokémon as you can. As you walk through the real world, your smartphone will vibrate to let you know you're near a Pokémon.”

For many of us who may not be gamers, this phenomenon – that literally took hold over night – was quite surprising. I have seen scores of people (not just kids and millennials) walking and interacting in parks and in town where it was virtually vacant days before. Even at work there seem to be more individuals and groups walking together at lunch time glancing at their phones.

On almost every social platform people are expressing a newfound interest in walking, even those who may not have made exercise their first priority in a long time. Concurrently, I am also seeing interest arise in the ideas around gamification from the wellness industry since the release of Pokémon Go.

Perhaps this is just another fad, but maybe Pokémon Go is the start of a new era where corporate-sponsored wellness programs include gamification to entice more people to become engaged.  From my vantage point, it seems we are at the dawn of something new – where gamification will be taken seriously as an engagement and exercise tool in the fight against anxiety, depression and obesity, as well as having an impact on overall wellness.

For years, employers have been promoting competitive or game-oriented challenges within their corporate wellness programs such as walking contests using old school pedometers or new age fitness devices to track steps and provide rewards. These can be successful for those motivated by fitness challenges.  However, building an exercise component into your wellness program by using gaming techniques that are founded in both the virtual and real worlds could be the additional aspect you need to motivate a larger community of employees to participate.

It will be interesting to see how gamification can be used to improve many aspects of both mental and physical health. Could Pokémon Go or some other augmented reality game be an asset to your employee mental health and wellness initiatives?

Kimberly George, SVP, Corporate Development, M&A, and Healthcare

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