MountainView Hospital August 07, 2016

Pokemon Go is the hottest game around right now, and its popularity is giving health care and public-safety professionals pause. While there have been multiple warnings about the game released across dozens of countries, there also seems to be growing agreement that the game is ultimately health-positive.

“Overall, the game is a healthy and fun phenomenon,” said Yvonne Saunders, MD at Family Friendly Medical Care based at MountainView Hospital. As video games have long held a reputation for encouraging couch-potato behaviors, games like Pokemon Go are changing that narrative for the better.

Health benefits

There are multiple ways that Pokemon Go can promote healthy behaviors, both physically and mentally. The game encourages players to get outside and walk around while hunting Pokemon characters. These walks can span multiple miles, allowing players to get their daily steps in while doing something they enjoy.

Walking makes for a complete, low-intensity workout. “Walking in and of itself is healthy,” Saunders said. “There’s no need to speed-walk or incorporate any other gimmick to optimize the exercise component.”

There has also been a recent stir about the mental health benefits of playing Pokemon Go. Researchers at Texas A&M University published a study crediting the game for creating a community of players and for encouraging social interactions among them. They also note the positive effects of outdoor exercise on emotional and mental wellness.

Safety tips

While there are health benefits of playing Pokemon Go, there also have been many publicized incidents of dangerous behaviors that accompany the game. “It’s important that players have strategies to avoid injury and mitigate potential risk,” Saunders said.

Here are tips for staying safe while playing the game and potentially preventing a trip to the emergency room:

  • Be aware of your surrounding and don’t wander into areas where you wouldn’t normally feel comfortable going. Remember to take stock of where you are, who’s around and if the area is well-lighted at night.

  • Do not trespass on private property, including businesses and construction sites. Be sure you’re welcome in the area before entering. Also, avoid playing in areas such as hospitals or police stations to ensure that you, or your child, are not interfering with important duties taking place there.

  • Be sure to look up from the game often. This will help you stay aware of your surroundings, avoid tripping and falling, and limit strain on the head and neck. “Players should avoid prolonged head-down movements. The head-down movement associated with texting or game playing has been shown to cause musculoskeletal injury. Pause the game periodically to rest your head and neck,” Saunders said.

  • Do not play while you’re driving or riding any other vehicle, including bikes, skateboards, scooters or skates.

  • Do not go into the street while trying to catch a Pokemon and always be sure to put the game down when crossing at crosswalks. “Players should not be looking at the screen while crossing roads or when walking through congested walkways,” Saunders said.

  • If your children play the game, remind them about “stranger danger” and always go with them and/or make sure they’re playing with a group of other children.

  • Take precautions to protect yourself or your child from sun exposure and heat stroke. This means staying hydrated, wearing light, loose-fitting clothing and slathering on sunblock.

  • Rest your eyes! Staring at phone/computer screens is known to cause strain on the eyes that can damage eyesight. Saunders recommends limiting the time a child looks at a screen to an hour a day, and for adults to limit their screen time as much as possible, as well.

  • Understand that your movements are being tracked, so take precautions against hackers. “Hackers and thieves can take advantage of the location-finder technology, and players should not lose sight of that,” Saunders said.

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