Alaska Regional Hospital - September 13, 2016

Within just days of its release in the U.S., Pokemon Go has exploded in popularity, attracting players of all ages and taking social media by storm.

Pokemon Go uses your smartphone”s GPS to create an “augmented reality,” or a game world that drops virtual reality characters into your actual surroundings ” at least according to your screen.

The mobile game encourages you to wander and explore new areas, so you can detect Pokemon nearby. When you approach one, the app accesses your phone”s camera to reveal the Pokemon right in front of you. Users can then catch, train and battle with the Pokemon they”ve collected.

How gaming may improve your health

Still searching for an excuse to venture out and start catching and collecting? Here are three research-backed ways that playing games like Pokemon Go can support your mental and physical health.

  1. It boosts your mood. A mounting body of research supports the use of video games in the treatment of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Video games can trigger the release of feel-good brain chemicals like dopamine and endorphins. Gaming may also help players build resilience, the ability to recover from adversity, and can promote a sense of well-being.

    Certain games, especially ones involving virtual reality or exercise, can feel like they suspend space and time. This allows players to relax and live in the moment, according to researchers.

    Pokemon Go certainly offers all of these features, along with its unique ability to draw people out of isolation, encouraging users to play and socialize face-to-face.

  2. It gets you moving. The social element of video games may be one reason why they”ve also demonstrated success in combating childhood obesity. Overweight children can face incredible social obstacles like bullying and exclusion, but exercise-based video games may help to break down those barriers while also promoting weight loss.

    One study found that children who were given video games involving physical activity maintained higher levels of daily moderate and vigorous exercise levels compared with overweight children who didn”t play video games. They even lost more weight and achieved lowered BMIs.

    Pokemon Go inspires people to get out of the house and move. One Twitter user announced that it helped him to walk over 10K in one day! Helping you log more steps is another way the game can boost your mood as walking has also been linked to depression relief.

  3. Gaming may help keep your brain sharp. Video games offer surprising benefits for brain health. Research shows that playing video games can improve attention, processing speed and visuospatial skills, or the ability to perceive and interact with items in your visual field. One long-term study even demonstrated that adolescents who regularly played strategic video games reported improved problem-solving skills and achieved higher grades in school.

    Pokemon Go involves strategy and planning, plus it exercises visuospatial skills by dropping virtual elements into your surroundings and by encouraging you to explore new places.

Although Pokemon Go may offer certain health benefits, players should take precautions to ensure their personal safety while adventuring.

What to watch out for

Augmented-reality users in search of their next catch may be vulnerable due to distraction and unfamiliarity with the areas they”ve wandered into.

Also, players can drop “lure modules” to attract Pokemon to a certain area for 30 minutes, but all players can see and benefit from these areas. This poses some safety concerns. For example, in Missouri, four armed robbers were arrested for allegedly attracting unsuspecting players with lure modules and then attacking them. Similar robberies were reported in Philadelphia, prompting police to issue personal safety recommendations for players and parents:

  • Frequently remind children about “stranger danger,” since the game involves meeting and interacting with other players in real life.
  • Limit areas where children can wander or play alongside your own kids.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings; watch out for cars, suspicious individuals, water and tripping hazards.
  • Trespassing onto private property or businesses can be dangerous, especially at night. Make sure you are welcome at a location before entering. In particular, avoid going into hospitals or police stations so you or your child do not interfere with their important duties.

As you venture out in search of magical creatures, Pokemon Go might help you achieve a healthier lifestyle ” just be sure to remember personal safety, stay alert and consider playing in pairs.