The search for mon­sters gets play­ers out­side

Poké­mon Go lead­ing to a surge in fit­ness tracker step counts

The Hamilton Spectator - - HEALTH - KATE SIL­VER

Un­til last week, MacKen­zie Ols­berg’s nightly com­mute home from her of­fice in Chicago in­volved tak­ing a train to a bus and walk­ing a short dis­tance to her home. Now, she skips the bus por­tion and walks the last mile and a half. All be­cause of Poké­mon Go. “Since Poké­mon came out, I’ve found that I’m a lot more en­gaged in what’s around, and I’ve fre­quently got­ten off the beaten track just so I can get that Poké­mon that’s nearby,” says Ols­berg, who is 29. Then she dead­pans: “I didn’t know there were so many Eevees around my house.” (For those of you who may not know, that’s a rare type of Poké­mon).

Poké­mon Go launched July 6 in the U.S. and July 18 in Canada, and the im­pact has been strik­ing. Not just on neigh­bour­hoods across North Amer­ica — which filled with zom­bielike play­ers hold­ing their cell­phones like di­vin­ing rods — but on step count.

All of a sud­den, peo­ple were mov­ing more in their quest to col­lect eggs from PokéStops, pelt­ing crit­ters (Drowzee, Pidgey, Zu­bat, Rat­tata and the like) with PokéBalls and wag­ing bat­tles in gyms, all in an aug­mented re­al­ity game that spreads Poké­mon crea­tures every­where.

The founders of Car­dio­gram, an app for Ap­ple Watch that an­a­lyzes heart rate data, looked at heart rate and ex­er­cise in­for­ma­tion from 35,000 Car­dio­gram Ap­ple Watch users, and saw an in­crease in users’ over­all ex­er­cise the week­end af­ter Poké­mon Go launched. The ex­er­cise in­crease was across the board — the app mak­ers have no way of know­ing who was ac­tu­ally us­ing Poké­mon Go. On the day of the launch, about 45 per cent of users were ex­er­cis­ing 30 or more min­utes. Two days later, on a Satur­day, that num­ber rose to 50 per cent. The next day, it hit 53 per cent.

“The fact that it’s a pop­u­la­tion­level ef­fect that’s vis­i­ble is ac­tu­ally pretty im­pres­sive on Poké­mon Go’s part,” said Car­dio­gram co­founder Bran­don Ballinger, who com­pares the in­crease to the spike seen the first week of Jan­uary, when peo­ple are re­solv­ing to be more ac­tive. By the sec­ond week of Jan­uary, he said, that ac­tiv­ity be­gan to de­cline.

John­son Hsieh, who co-founded Car­dio­gram with Ballinger, added that his own step count has also risen since he started play­ing Poké­mon Go.

“I walk to work and home ev­ery day and I def­i­nitely spend more time tak­ing detours,” Hsieh said.

Jaw­bone, which makes the UP fit­ness tracker, took a closer look at its users who men­tioned Poké­mon Go in their com­ments (UP users can in­ter­act with friends through the app) and com­pared their steps the week­end af­ter the launch with past week­ends. The re­sults: on av­er­age, the group that men­tioned Poké­mon Go was walk­ing 62.5 per cent more than usual. Users of Un­der Ar­mour’s MyFit­nessPal log work­outs, like walk­ing, run­ning or bik­ing. In re­cent days, they’ve started en­ter­ing “Poké­mon Go” as a work­out, says Re­becca Sil­li­man, di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions with Un­der Ar­mour Con­nected Fit­ness.

“Gen­er­ally they burn about 250300 calo­ries a pop,” she said.

Mike Cald­well, co-founder of Pacer, an ac­tiv­ity tracker app users down­load to their phone, says that his team looked at Pacer users younger than 30 and saw a 5 to 10 per cent in­crease in daily steps, over­all, since the Poké­mon Go launch, com­pared with the pre­vi­ous week.

“Now, I can’t say with the data that we have that this in­crease is due to Poké­mon Go,” Cald­well said in an email. “But if we just sup­pose for a mo­ment that it were, that’s a re­mark­able change over an en­tire pop­u­la­tion.”

Pacer of­fers users the op­tion to join groups for sup­port, and Cald­well said that a num­ber of Poké­mon walk­ing groups have formed across the coun­try. He added that within the Pacer com­mu­nity, where users can com­ment and in­ter­act, the sub­ject of Poké­mon Go is com­ing up fre­quently.

One user wrote, “My son, 14, con­vinced me to down­load the Poké­mon Go app and we spent two hours just walk­ing around the park ‘col­lect­ing’ them all. Af­ter two hours I checked my phone and lo and be­hold 12,000 steps. What a great way to walk and spend some qual­ity time with the kid I can’t drag away from his com­puter!” An­other com­mented: “So haven’t walked in years. And over­weight. So fig­ured I would down­load this new game. … So tonight was my first walk. Caught a hand­ful of Poké­mon and walked 3.5 miles! I’m proud of my­self and feel good.”

Cald­well said Poké­mon Go is chang­ing the con­ver­sa­tion around the de­vel­op­ment of health and fit­ness apps.

“There’s al­ways been this idea that fit­ness and gam­ing could come to­gether and make some­thing spe­cial for users, and, frankly, it’s been tried by count­less apps and com­pa­nies be­fore (even we in­cor­po­rate some mi­nor el­e­ments of gam­i­fi­ca­tion into our app),” he wrote. “But no­body has ever re­ally bro­ken through to such a mass au­di­ence be­fore with such a com­pelling prod­uct. It re­ally just shows that there’s still a lot of in­no­va­tion left to be done in our do­main.”

ALAN DIAZ, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The Poké­mon Go craze has sent le­gions of play­ers hik­ing around ci­ties and bat­tling with “pocket mon­sters” on their smart­phones.

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