Do you want to be the very best, like no one ever was? Real-life positive health consequences of playing Pokémon Go—a new GPS-based augmented reality game—are happening across the nation. According to Matt Hoffman, DNP, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Nursing, this quest to “catch ‘em all” is great news for public health.

 I will travel across the land, searching far and wide

Players, known as “trainers,” download the Pokémon Go game to their smartphones. To progress in the game, trainers must walk around to find and catch Pokémon and access specific locations called Pokéstops—where Pokéballs and other useful items are collected. Poké eggs are among the things that can be collected at these locations. Getting to Pokéstops, catching different Pokémon and hatching the Poké eggs requires walking; lots of walking.

“Playing the game is a lot of fun, and it has been a catalyst to get people moving,” said Hoffman who has been affectionately dubbed the “Pokémon Professor” by co-workers.

“What began as just playing the game has now become a hobby for me that provides certain health benefits,” Hoffman continued. “I’ve spent an hour or two at a time venturing around the community to find Pokéstops.  And, to hatch one egg, a trainer must walk anywhere from one to six miles. There’s no doubt about it, I am exercising more as a result of playing the game, and I am enjoying it.”

Hoffman isn’t alone. Estimates of the number of Pokémon Go daily users range from nine to 21 million people, and this user base is growing daily. In addition to inspiring exercise, playing Pokémon Go may have additional benefits.

Pokémon, (gotta catch’em all!) it’s you and me

“There is a sense of community when trainers converge in search of Pokémon, or when they gather together at Pokéstops,” Hoffman said. “The game is bringing people together, providing opportunity for social interaction and increasing our sense of belonging, which can have a positive impact on our emotional and mental health.”

Additionally, families may find that Pokémon Go lessens the technology tension that divides the generations. “This is a relatively non-violent game, and I have seen families walking around playing the game together,” Hoffman said. “Or, it encourages parents to go outside with their children while they play. Pokémon Go has the ability to transport families away from an evening on the couch to walking around the neighborhood.”

You teach me and I’ll teach you

Hoffman said playing the game has even broadened his sense of curiosity and knowledge about his local community. “I discovered new experiences within my community because the game has led me to areas that I haven’t explored, or, previously only driven through,” he said. “Additionally, I’ve met many interesting people while playing the game, and I enjoy seeing the variation in the character designs and abilities.”

Come with me, the time is right, there’s no better team

Multiply the number of Pokémon Go players by the number of kilometers they must travel to progress in the game, and the chances of negative consequences increase. “We often hear of people falling off curbs or sustaining injuries as a result of staring at their phones and not paying attention to their surroundings,” Hoffman said. “It’s good to always keep safety and best practices in mind.”

Hoffman emphasized players watch where they walk and be aware of surroundings when playing. There is safety in numbers, and he encourages playing with friends as a team.

“Remember, you should never play Pokémon Go while driving. It’s also important to avoid playing in dark, isolated areas – there have been reports of trainers being robbed and attacked,” he said. “Also, summer days are very hot, so use sunscreen and drink plenty of water before heading outside during peak heat times. If you are one of the millions who are playing Pokémon Go, we hope you catch ‘em all!”

— Diane L. Oswald

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