If you're an avid Pokémon Go player, don't be too quick to pat yourself on the back for getting exercise benefits out of your habit. According to research, that back patting might actually burn more calories than playing the game.
A new study suggests that while playing Pokémon Go does have health benefits in the short term, they don't last. Playing the game, according to the researchers, does boost your level of physical activity. But the boost is short-lived.
Within six weeks of starting play, according to the science, most people will significantly diminish the amount of steps they take while playing. It makes sense. When you first get involved, you're excited, and still engaged with it. But as the game becomes more familiar, and your feet become more sore, the interest flags.
The game, despite its massive popularity, has drawn consternation from multiple research groups. Studies have shown that Pokémon Go leads to increased incidence of drivers hitting distracted pedestrians. By some accounts, people have even fallen off of cliffs because they were so engrossed in their phones.
The game's defenders often cite the exercise rationale as an alleged benefit. But Katherine Howe, the study's lead researcher, says that the claim is based on "anecdotal evidence."
Howe and her team sent an online survey to 1,182 adult American Pokémon Go players in August. All of them played the game on an iPhone 6, which has a built-in accelerometer that records how many steps you take.
The participants were asked to send the team a screenshot of how many steps they took each day. They started collecting the data two months before they installed Pokémon Go, and continued for six weeks afterwards.
During the first week, players increased their daily steps by an average of 995. Equivalent to about eleven minutes of additional walking every day. The World Health Organization recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, minimum. And the added eleven minutes of walking per day would account for about half of that.
Too bad the step count steadily diminishes until it returns to where it was before the game was downloaded.
"Our results indicate that the health impact of Pokémon Go might be moderate," concluded the researchers. "Even if smaller amounts of physical activity might also be important for health outcomes, the increase in steps from Pokémon Go, as with many physical activity interventions, was not sustained over time."
"Although the association between Pokémon Go and change in number of steps was short-lived in our study, some people might sustain increased physical activity through the game."
"Also, the effect of Pokémon Go on physical activity might be different in children, who were not included in our study. Other potential benefits might exist, such as increased social connectedness and improved mood."