Everyone is at it, and there is no need to be embarrassed when caught playing with it. It seems that some are too ashamed to admit to it. In some circles it is “taboo” to talk about it. GARDAÍ have cautioned people to not to do it while driving, but that is not a new warning. I am thirty five years old and I have done it…… I have played Pokémon Go! Now it’s easy to dismiss Pokémon Go as hype and 90s nostalgia but there is another phenomenon that is beginning to surface since the release of Pokémon Go just over 1 month ago. The reality is, users of the app are changing their physical activity behaviours. App players who were sedentary or inactive prior to downloading the app now find themselves walking the long way home, walking more frequently and for longer periods as a result of the game. The normal human state – to walk around the world as we work, socialise, and play is progressively more unfamiliar to us. Smart phones and tablets are the modern soother, used to comfort, entertain and pacify. Unfortunately sedentary behaviour is associated with adverse health issues and the development of chronic diseases including musculoskeletal disorders and back pain (Chen et al., 2009; Costigan et al., 2013)
Prescribing increased activity levels as medicine is not only effective in treating musculoskeletal disorders, it has a role in managing psychiatric, neurological, metabolic, cardiovascular, pulmonary diseases and even cancer (Pedersen & Saltin, 2015). Exercise in adults can lead to a significant reduction in the occurrence of musculoskeletal pain and is associated with greater health related quality of life (Stovitz & Johnson, 2006). Even during episodes of lower back pain, advice to “take it easy” is less effective than guidance to stay active (Hagen et al., 2010). But prescribing exercise is easy …… getting people to adhere to the recommendation to increase their levels of physical activity isn’t! Governments all over the developed world have been trying for years but failing badly to get their populations moving. Only 3 out of 10 adults in Ireland appear to meet the recommended level of daily physical activity. Even more worryingly, just 19% of primary school children and 12% of secondary school pupils get an adequate level of exercise to meet their needs. People now spend much of their time in captivity, enclosed in offices and vehicles, shuttled from one indoor activity to another – sometimes without even glancing up from a handheld screen. They panic at the thought loosing mobile phone coverage (Lougheed, 2008). Children spend less time than their parents did playing outside. There has been a fundamental shift away from nature to ‘videophilia’ – sedentary activities involving electronic media (Pergams & Zaradic, 2006). The move away from traditional outdoor activity like climbing trees, ropes and walls has had a huge impact on children’s health. It has made modern 10-year-olds physically weaker than their counterparts living in the 1990s. They are becoming more unfit, and more sedentary. The wild child survey prepared for the Heritage Society of Ireland in 2010 showed that Irish children spend less and less time playing outside. They have become prisoners and their home is their new “exercise yard” (Carver et al., 2008)
But Pokémon Go has achieved in the last month what international governments have been trying to achieve for years. All of a sudden, people are moving more collecting eggs from PokéStops, catching critters (Drowzee, Pidgey, Zubat, Rattata and the like) with PokéBalls and fighting battles in gyms, all in an augmented reality game that spreads Pokémon creatures throughout the world. Since the launch of Pokémon Go activity tracking apps have logged a huge increase in the average steps and the amount of exercise take by users So, Pokémon Go boasts a positive side effect for users – a major increase in daily physical activity levels. Many people who were inactive and lacked physical activity are now finding themselves walking for hours every day to search for new Pokémon. Many people are reacting through social media, changing their exercise programs to the so-called “Pokémon go workout.” Running is a great way to make speedy progress through the game when you play to collect Pokémon, as the game is built on the premise of people moving through the real world by foot, using the GPS in your phone. Moving through the real world quickly by foot leads to rapid progress!
Yes, Pokémon Go is seen by some to be a waste of time, but in reality it’s getting people outside, exercising and exploring. It may be better if they were watching for real birds instead of Pidgeys and Spearows. But in our generally sedentary country rather than focus on the detrimental impact of personal technologies, why not continue to use them to provoke increased activity and exercise!
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Chen SM, Liu MF, Cook J, Bass S & Lo SK. (2009). Sedentary lifestyle as a risk factor for low back pain: a systematic review. Int Arch Occup Environ Health 82, 797-806.
Costigan SA, Barnett L, Plotnikoff RC & Lubans DR. (2013). The health indicators associated with screen-based sedentary behavior among adolescent girls: a systematic review. J Adolesc Health 52, 382-392.
Hagen KB, Hilde G, Jamtvedt G & Winnem M. (2010). WITHDRAWN: Bed rest for acute low-back pain and sciatica. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, Cd001254.
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Pedersen BK & Saltin B. (2015). Exercise as medicine – evidence for prescribing exercise as therapy in 26 different chronic diseases. Scand J Med Sci Sports 25 Suppl 3, 1-72.
Pergams OR & Zaradic PA. (2006). Is love of nature in the US becoming love of electronic media? 16-year downtrend in national park visits explained by watching movies, playing video games, internet use, and oil prices. J Environ Manage 80, 387-393.
Stovitz SD & Johnson RJ. (2006). “Underuse” as a cause for musculoskeletal injuries: is it time that we started reframing our message? Br J Sports Med 40, 738-739.