The fam­ily that games to­gether stays to­gether

Pretoria News Weekend - - HEALTH -

NEW YORK: The fam­ily that plays an on­line game to­gether may get more ex­er­cise to­gether, a new study sug­gests.

Sound counter-in­tu­itive? Well, re­searchers have long strug­gled with find­ing ways to coax fam­i­lies to move more, but the on­line game – where the only prize was a lowly mug – con­vinced spouses, par­ents and kids to log more steps in their daily walk­ing rou­tines.

While all of the par­tic­i­pants were white, and richer and health­ier than most oth­ers their age in the US, the study au­thors be­lieve the ap­proach holds plenty of po­ten­tial.

Games are “a promis­ing ap­proach to im­prove daily health be­hav­iours”, said Dr Mitesh Pa­tel. He is an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of medicine and health care man­age­ment at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia in Philadel­phia. “But the de­sign of the game is crit­i­cal to its suc­cess.”

More than half of adult Amer­i­cans don’t get enough ex­er­cise, ac­cord­ing to Pa­tel. There’s ev­i­dence that con­nec­tions with other peo­ple can help in­di­vid­u­als ex­er­cise more, but “most ex­er­cise pro­grammes fo­cus on the in­di­vid­ual and don’t har­ness these in­ter­ac­tions from so­cial net­works”.

For the new study, the re­searchers sent step-track­ing tech­nol­ogy, such as a Fit­bit, to the par­tic­i­pants. The in­ves­ti­ga­tors also pro­vided an app to fam­ily mem­bers en­listed in the study. One per­son in each fam­ily group was ran­domly cho­sen to be tracked each day, and the group gained points if that per­son met goals for steps.

“Ev­ery­one got five life­lines to use on days they were sick or couldn’t achieve their goals for other rea­sons. This pro­vided a sense of for­give­ness,” Pa­tel said. At the end of 12 weeks, groups would re­ceive mugs if they met cer­tain ex­er­cise goals. There were no other prizes.

Two hun­dred peo­ple from 94 fam­ily groups took part in the study. Over­all, they were sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent than the US gen­eral pop­u­la­tion: 56% were fe­male and their av­er­age age was 55. The group was ac­tive over­all, ex­er­cis­ing an av­er­age of about 7 500 steps a day be­fore the study be­gan; Pa­tel said the av­er­age in the US is closer to 5 000 steps.

Also, all par­tic­i­pants were part of the Fram­ing­ham Heart Study, a long-term study of health in a Mas­sachusetts town. About half of the par­tic­i­pants were as­signed to play the game and get mes­sages about their step goals, while the oth­ers only re­ceived the mes­sages (the “con­trol” group).

In an ac­com­pa­ny­ing com­men­tary, re­searcher Dr Ichiro Kawachi writes that “much re­mains to be learned about gam­i­fi­ca­tion” – a term that refers to the use of games to en­cour­age ac­tions like buy­ing a prod­uct or ex­er­cis­ing more.

In vir­tual re­al­ity (in­clud­ing games like Poke­mon Go), “the line be­tween en­ter­tain­ment and pub­lic health is be­com­ing pro­gres­sively blurred”, wrote Kawachi.

Ac­cord­ing to Kawachi, there’s an op­por­tu­nity to use tech­nol­ogy to make im­prov­ing health an “en­gag­ing, ful­fill­ing and fun ac­tiv­ity”.

The study was pub­lished in the jour­nal JAMA In­ter­nal Medicine. – New York Times

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