Pokémon Go is a great fitness app – because it’s not a fitness app

The Pokémon Go craze is officially here. Because it has kids and adult walking long distances to “catch them all,” it has been hailed by many as an outstanding fitness app. All of a sudden, a silly game is succeeding where so many actual fitness and exercise apps fail. Why?


For those of you currently residing under a rock, the Pokémon Go game lets you collect and nurture little anime creatures. To find new Pokémon, or to get to the “gyms” where you can rise to local fame by battling other players, you need to walk around in the real world. Yes, like in outside. Using your legs.

Parents around the country are watching with amazement as their children willingly ramp up their activity levels. Teenagers have been reported to have “walked and biked 25 plus miles in two days, outside, in the heat and rain,” looking for the elusive creatures. The uptick is being documented by fitness tracker companies, who are seeing spikes in wearers’ step counts.

They're everywhere... Even at the ADR studio!

They're everywhere... Even at the ADR studio!


Why is Pokémon more inspiring than Fitbit?

Plenty of fitness apps and trackers have struggled for years to accomplish a fraction of the activity boost Pokémon has generated in the few weeks the app has been available. Most people get tired of logging their food and exercise, and 42% of people stop using their fitness trackers after 6 months. While Pokémon Go is still new and shiny and might lose some of its appeal with time, we have several reasons to believe that this game - and others like it - will have more success than standard fitness apps.

First, the steps you take when playing Pokémon Go have a purpose. They are not merely steps for the sake of steps (as with a Fitbit or Jawbone), nor do they take months and months to translate into the results you want (such as weight loss). No, they translate into Squirtle and Jigglypuff. Immediately. 

Second, Pokémon Go makes exercise feel less like exercise. Research has shown that “engaging in a physical activity seems to trigger the search for reward when individuals perceive it as exercise but not when they perceive it as fun.” That is, people who went for an “exercise walk” gulped down more dessert than people who did the exact same activity, but were told it was a “scenic stroll.” Pokémon Go is a great fitness app because it doesn’t trigger the “I’ve exercised, I can have another cupcake” argument. 

Third, the app makes people think of walking as simply “the way it is.” It is not a decision you need to take, you walk because that’s how you play the game. This is similar to what you often hear from people who seem to have no problem working out regularly; they often say that they never really make a decision to work out, it just happens, kind of like brushing your teeth. 

Keeping the fitness magic going

So what is the best way of ensuring that Pokémon Go continues to get people moving? It strikes me as I’m writing this that the best way to protect the exercise-inducing function of the game would probably have been to not point out why it works. Much like how children have a tendency to not want to eat healthy foods simply because they’ve been told they’re healthy, pointing out the covert fitness function of Pokémon Go might strip the game of its power. Oops?

Why hello there!

Why hello there!