Beat the Street and Pokémon Go turn getting active into a game

Since launching in the US on 6 July, Pokémon Go has proven to be a huge success with more daily users than Twitter. Much has been made of the game’s pioneering use of augmented reality, but Pokémon Go has also been helping people improve their health.

Millions of players have been inspired to get moving and explore their local area in order to chase and catch as many Pokémon as possible.

Early evidence suggests that Pokémon Go has helped boost the physical activity levels of players. Data from Apple Watch’s exercise tracker — Cardiogram — showed an uptick in activity following the release of Pokémon Go roughly equivalent to the increase in exercise following New Years’ Resolutions.

The creators of Pokémon Go have made explicit their intention to make people more active following an interview with Pokemon Go CEO — John Hanke — with Business Insider: “Pokémon Go is designed to get you up and moving by promising you Pokémon as rewards, rather than placing pressure on you.”

Pokémon Go is not the first game to help people to become more active — Wii Fit encouraged millions of people to exercise more in their homes when it was released in 2007. However, unlike Wii Fit, Pokémon Go is not a game explicitly about exercise and instead gets people to walk and race around their local area by focusing on a simple, fun game.

Dr William Bird is the CEO and Founder of Intelligent Health — a health organisation that used gamification to help build active communities across the past four years.

Intelligent Health delivers Beat the Street – a health initiative that transforms entire towns and cities into a giant game. Residents pick up cards and fobs and are encouraged to tap them on goals placed around their town to collect points and win prizes.

Dr Bird attributes the success of Beat the Street and Pokémon Go to their ‘health by stealth’ approach: “Driving to work or remaining inactive are habitual behaviours which have proven very hard to shift with traditional active travel campaigns. Both Beat the Street and Pokémon Go have proven to be very successful in reaching the most inactive people because they focus on having fun and rewarding positive behaviour rather than getting fit.

“Additionally, both games create a social norm around being active. For Beat the Street, it is uncool for players to drive to school when they could walk or cycle. For Pokémon, friends and colleagues share stories of which Pokémon they have caught and where they have travelled.”

More than 500,000 people will have taken part in Beat the Street by the end of 2016 and games held in areas such Isleworth have seen more than 37.5% of the population take part. Beat the Street was recently recognised for its innovative approach to transforming health after being included in The Observer and Nesta’s list of 50 New Radicals.

However, if apps like Pokémon Go want to create lasting change then they will need to sustain increases in physical activity over longer periods of time. The early results are encouraging, a report from Surveymonkey has shown Pokémon Go to have a much higher retention rate of players compared to other mobile apps.

Beat the Street has demonstrated sustained change in physical activity levels among participants – six months after the game has finished, around half of players who became more active continued to be more active

Dr Bird said: “In just a few days, Pokémon Go has already had a huge impact in getting people to become more active in the UK. With millions of players engaged and moving, I am incredibly excited to see how Pokémon Go can help transform the health of people across the UK over the coming weeks and months.”

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