The Unexpected Health Benefits of Pokémon Go

The mobile game could help you shed a few extra pounds.

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

Pokémon Go uses your smart phone’s GPS to locate you within 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, available on Android and iOS smart phones, encourages you to wander and explore new areas so it can detect Pokémon nearby. When you approach one, the app accesses your phone’s camera to reveal the Pokémon right in front of you. Users then can catch, train, and battle with the Pokémon they’ve collected.

How Gaming May Improve Your Health

Still searching for an excuse to venture out and “catch ‘em all?” Here are 3 science-backed ways that playing games like Pokémon Go can support your mental and physical health.

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 wellbeing.

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.

Pokémon 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.  

Related: Is Too Much Tech Making You Sick?

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.

Pokémon Go inspires people to get out of the house and move. One Twitter user even 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 also has been linked to depression relief.

Related: 4 Secrets of Walking to Lose Weight

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.

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

Related: 6 Memory-Boosting Foods (and What to Avoid)

What to watch out for

Pokémon Go users in search of their next catch may be vulnerable due to distraction and unfamiliarity with the areas they’ve wandered into.

Also, other players can drop “lure modules,” or Pokémon collection stops for 30-minute windows, which poses some safety concerns. In Missouri, four armed robbers were arrested for 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
  • Limit areas where children can wander or play along with your kids
  • Pay attention to your surroundings; watch out for cars, suspicious individuals, water and tripping hazards

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

This content originally appeared on Sharecare.com.

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