The Gameification of Fitness – How Pokémon have helped people lose weight.

A lot of people are asking if the “game/fad” is actually getting people moving and arguing the good points and the bad points, well a glance at various social media will clearly show there are a lot of people who have started moving around who never used to before, the Pokémon GO craze is, well, crazy.

But does it have what it takes to actually help people lose weight, either deliberately or as a side-effect of training to be a Pokémon master?

So, Why can people feel good about being a grown adult chasing down virtual creatures across the UK.


<strong>People are moving about more and loving it – and for the most part, undertaking movement they have never done before.</strong>

So let’s break this down – why is it even important that we are moving around more?

We already know that one major contributor to childhood obesity and even adult weight issues is inactivity, everyone is blaming sugar and fat food – but in reality  (although a topic for another blog) these don’t appear to be the biggest contributors, in some cases we consume less sugary drinks than people like to believe.

But we ARE more sedentary, our office hours are longer, we have games consoles and portable computers, we have robots and hover-boards to do our work for us.

<img class=”wp-image-756″ src=”×503.jpg” alt=”insufficient movement in children” width=”851″ height=”418″ /> Prevalence of Insufficient physical activity among school-going adolescents ages 11-17 (79%!!!) As per the WHO Surveys 2010

Each year the WHO carries out extensive surveys in relation to health guidelines, one such is physical activity, as well as keeping the waistline in check, being active has a plethora of other benefits, if you are inactive, you are prone to the issues that come with that ALONG with the issues that come with any potential weight gain. Physical activity is huge in health, weight management, and well-being – The recent numbers are not presented as sexily as above, but the picture is still grim, 6 years ago, we were ranking at around 79 percent fail, forgetting sufficient activity as per the incredibly lax guidelines

Anyway – that’s for people who still don’t think “anything that gets people moving is a good thing.

<strong>Why it’s (Controversially) better than a fit bit?</strong>

Fitbit’s active users are ever declining, with statistics showing that almost 33% of fitbits end up in a drawer somewhere unloved and unused after a short while of using (links to stats and studies at the end of the article).

That’s because the model required to get the most from a Fitbit requires a bit more effort, focus and adherence, as-well as being quite proficient at deliberately creating a behaviour or building a new one, even myself with a fit-bit, more often than not glance at the step count “surprised and pleased” I hit 10k, with the virtual pat and that’s the end of it. Everything else is up to me.

If I repeat the behavior if I continue on with the behavior.

This comes down to the reliability of effort vs habit building, rewards and making new things effortless.

We know this, if something is perceived as requiring effort, that = discouragement, unless we can weight up via our own decisions balance, the pros and cons of doing vs not doing, the better weighted out internal tick list is towards “doing” , the more likely we are to complete this behavior, certain “ticks” might also carry more or less weight, so are our “do’s emotional? (Beating our friends, nostalgia about seeing a Cubone, rediscovering long-forgotten Pokémon) or are they deeply personal? (Weight and health management, body image and so on)?

Fitbit and it’s planned calorie burn model set goals, which are great – if you have the motivation to hit them, which requires a lot more conscious effort for the general population.

Now some people get off over clearly marked bar charts graphs and weeks full of 15k step ticks, but at the same time you feel defeated if you miss your step goal or if you forget to charge your Fitbit, it can be somewhat demotivating , whilst in contrast Pokémon go has no real demotivates other than the Pokémon escaping, but you know another will be along soon and it may be even better – encouraging yet more movement, whilst you merrily run off to find the next rustle of grass or home in on that Chansey that’s “2 footprints away”.

Are we beginning to see the clear difference in facilitating change through conscious and subconscious efforts? Reward vs Punishment and Motivators?

There are no glaring “you missed this goal” type notifications, or anxiety wracking days where your perfect run is smashed by a 3k day, only constant dangling of the carrot, “walk a bit further and your egg with hatch” – “ walk just around the corner and you may see a Marrowak” and constant encouragements to go and explore your local parks (where the vast majority of the poke-stops – stations you can refill items such as balls you have to throw to catch Pokémon can be found)

People are accidentally spending way more time walking around than they realise, think you “waste a lot of time on Whatsapp and Facebook? – Pokemon is the new distraction, but to play it, you have to be moving!

<img class=”wp-image-758″ src=”” alt=”Nhibp2x7Qph0q525YfxzTa05t3qB1j0B4JP23e4kybo” width=”335″ height=”367″ /> Reddit User: bmccormack3305 is just one of many, many people who’ve seen a sudden change in their activity levels since installing Pokemon GO

This model of the casual gaming activity promotion vs the Fitbit’s planned calorie burn/activity model can be explained thusly:

<strong>Stimulus / Goal –  Cognitive awareness –Habit building – Reward – Repeated behavior.</strong>

Another element in creating new behaviors, especially when consciously chosen, is sociability- we all know that there are higher retention rates for users of exercise plans, fitbits and jawbones when multiple people have these devices, it creates a form of accountability , just like the way support networks help dieters all the time – What else creates adherence?

Wanting to be better than everyone else, or be the one dude among your friends who finds the Lapras by B&amp;Q (the damned thing has eluded me twice and then ran off with an Electabuzz this week), groups of people doing things, are powerful tools for adherence.

<strong>Let’s discuss and take a brief look at some of the research and statistics</strong>

If we look back at the WHO statistics for movement in adolescents in the UK – we’re at 79% insufficient physical activity for the population as a whole – and adults aren’t much better.

Adults are better educated and exposed to information regarding their health choices, therefore in theory better equipped to make a lifestyle change choice, but children? We have to accept we are in a world of smartphones and electronics and this is what kids use, they don’t know a world outside of google maps and Siri.

Pokemon go at a basic level combines encouraged / spontaneous movement, with gambling reward (no fixed reward for a task but always an uncertain reward for an uncertain amount of weight – think slot-machines/one-armed bandits) to create movement, I am certain most people playing aren’t actually doing it because they thought “hey it will help me lose weight” but still..

This combination of movement encouragement trumps planned movement because of how it encourages it’s interaction,, The Fitbit that uses daily planned activity/calorie burn vs Pokémon hunting becomes a desirable , rewarding and thoughtless behavior, people taking simple trips to the shops glance at their phone and make a detour around the neighborhood (I was going to Homebase this week, I glanced at my phone, saw a Pokémon-Gym over the road, walked 300 meters to ‘Pwn’ it and stick my Slowbro in there, I’d have NEVER done that, without the app).

For many sedentary individuals, encouraging extra activity is a huge task for health professionals, getting a client to undertake extra movement, walk the dog, take the stairs, park further away at the supermarket is huge as over the weeks, days and months everything will accumulate, it’s just so hard to get people to do this.

Partly because the only motivators are scale movements and tracking it for the general person is BORING…. if only there was a more fun way…

<img class=” wp-image-760″ src=”×1024.png” alt=”We combine walking targets, with short walk rewards, with encouraged random movement – we have a recipe for some serious adherence!” width=”318″ height=”565″ /> We combine walking targets, with short walk rewards, with encouraged random movement – we have a recipe for some serious adherence!

<blockquote>To quote the Great Martin MacDonald – <strong>”Controlling Human Beings is so much more difficult than controlling macros”</strong></blockquote>

BUT – suddenly dangle a Hitmonchan outside their front porch for a “unknown distance of between 100 and 700 meters” and suddenly you’ve got movement as people creep out of the house, little by little, gaining more confidence, further and further.

<img class=” wp-image-768″ src=”” alt=”Next Up : A Guide to avoiding PokéDOMS from chasing too many Caterpies” width=”476″ height=”400″ /> Next Up : A Guide to avoiding PokéDOMS from chasing too many Caterpies

Additionally, another of the problems with the planned / target set physical activity or calorie burn model of the Fitbit user is one we all face as coaches, calorie restriction often leads to movement reduction – people are very good at subconsciously keeping things “the same” so as with planned dieting (calorie restriction) through energy balance manipulation, people start to subconsciously move about less, that’s why good coaches, love non exercise physical activity (NEPA) , one big deciding factor our physical activity, generally being around 20% to 40% of our daily needs, (Don’t worry, citations at the end brah – This is a blog, not an academic Journal)  which is our second largest calorie dictator on average (second to our resting metabolic rate needs (RMR)).

<img class=”wp-image-755″ src=”×1024.png” alt=”IMG_2016-07-14-10273674″ width=”164″ height=”273″ /> A 250cp Abra appearing in the park by me taunts me into a 500 meter chase, before running away and appearing elsewhere in the other direction – The Hunt ensues and I end up racking up a KM of walking when all I wanted was some Doritos.

One huge elephant in the room when it comes to working out is the question we see ALL OVER Facebook: “why the hell does my client not lose weight and why does my other one eat so much and lose weigh!?!”

Theories on adaptation aside, for many, MANY people, this is down to something we refer to as “spontaneous physical activity (SPA), this is fidgeting, posture changing and constant twitchy movement and general restlessness you see, requires energy – I, for example, am a pacer, on the phone, thinking, talking, I pace around and around – it drives people mad, but a conversation with me, I likely burn twice as much energy from gesticulations and fidgeting than anyone else I’m speaking to.


Movement trackers have tried to remedy this with those little “inactivity buzzes” that you get when you haven’t moved for a while, but that doesn’t work for many, some people are great and will get up and move, many people wont.


Pokémon GO helps extend normal activity due to the distraction nature, it’s a complex combination of the “Little more effort” gamble for the “bigger reward” the rare Pokémon will keep you moving more frequently in the long run, there are no rewards or motivations with a regular movement tracker to exceed your planned expenditures and we know these “unknown reward models” really get people repeating behaviors, that’s kinda why Vegas does so well – and it doesn’t just work with money rewards, pretty much any pleasurable experience works with the “unknown input – reward” model.


One way other than the “random spawns of rare creates” Pokémon GO achieves this, is through its It’s tracking feature, whilst pissing annoying is perfectly designed to make you explore and walk around your local area, instead of an arbitrary number of steps, It’s (annoying and stupid!!! ) tracking system has you triangulate locations yourself, through wandering, trial and error, and judgement.




Remember, Pokémon GO is a tool, it’s not going to put you out of a job as a coach 🙂


Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a 10km egg to hatch.



<img class=”size-full wp-image-762 aligncenter” src=”” alt=”tumblr_inline_mo5r9th6ik1qz4rgp” width=”380″ height=”212″ />


References / Reading relating to various points.


(Willis, Szabo-reed, Ptomey, et al., 2016)

(Martin, Heilbronn, Jonge, et al., 2007)

(Martin, Das, Lindblad, et al., 2011)

(Andrzej, Ksi and Konarzewski, 2016)

(Delgado, Miller, Inati, et al., 2005)

(Friedrich and Zentall, 2004)

(Ledger and Partners, 2014)

Andrzej, K.G., Ksi, A. &amp; Konarzewski, M. (2016) Physiology &amp; Behavior Effect of calorie restriction on spontaneous physical activity and body mass in mice divergently selected for basal metabolic rate ( BMR ). [Online] 161, 116–122. Available from: doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2016.04.022.

Delgado, M.R., Miller, M.M., Inati, S. &amp; Phelps, E.A. (2005) An fMRI study of reward-related probability learning. [Online] 24, 862–873. Available from: doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2004.10.002.

Friedrich, A.M. &amp; Zentall, T.R. (2004) Pigeons shift their preference toward locations of food that take more effort to obtain. <em>Behavioural Processes</em>. [Online] 67 (3), 405–415. Available from: doi:10.1016/j.beproc.2004.07.001.

Ledger, D. &amp; Partners, E. (2014) Inside Wearables – Part 2. (June).

Martin, C.K., Das, S.K., Lindblad, L., Racette, S.B., Mccrory, M.A., Weiss, E.P., Delany, J.P., Kraus, W.E., Study, C. &amp; Carolina, N. (2011) Effect of calorie restriction on the free-living physical activity levels of nonobese humans : results of three randomized trials. [Online] 956–963. Available from: doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00846.2009.

Martin, C.K., Heilbronn, L.K., Jonge, L. De, Delany, J.P., Volaufova, J., Anton, S.D., Redman, L.M., Smith, S.R., Ravussin, E., Corby, K., Heilbronn, L.K., Jonge, L.D.E., Delany, J.P., Anton, S.D., Leanne, M., Smith, S.R. &amp; Ravussin, E. (2007) Effect of Calorie Restriction on Resting Metabolic Rate and Spontaneous Physical Activity. 15 (12).

Willis, E.A., Szabo-reed, A.N., Ptomey, L.T., Steger, F.L., Honas, J.J., Al-hihi, E.M., Lee, R., Vansaghi, L., Washburn, R.A. &amp; Donnelly, J.E. (2016) Distance learning strategies for weight management utilizing social media : A comparison of phone conference call versus social media platform . Rationale and design for a randomized study. <em>Contemporary Clinical Trials</em>. [Online] 47, Elsevier Inc., 282–288. Available from: doi:10.1016/j.cct.2016.02.005.