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Pokemon Go offers health benefits to seniors

Pokemon Go offers health benefits to seniors The popular mobile app Pokemon Go has captivated audiences of all ages around the world, but doctors say there's more to this game than just fun.

Earlier this summer, the mobile game application Pokemon Go was released to rave reviews. Millions of people around the world are playing the game for fun, but researchers are learning that there are more benefits than just entertainment to this latest program. By encouraging physical activity, doctors say there can be a number of positive health benefits, including for seniors who have chronic diseases or need physical therapy. 

What is Pokemon Go?
To understand just how much this game can improve seniors' health, it's important to know what separates Pokemon Go from other video games. 

The mobile Pokemon app is based on a handheld video game that was exceptionally popular with children starting in the mid-90s. Players, called Trainers in the game, traverse a digital world full of small creatures called Pokemon, catching them in the wild by throwing Poke balls at them and training them to battle other Pokemon. The stronger and more experienced the creatures get, the better they fair in battles. The player collects badges for winning tournaments at Gyms and tries to collect all 151 Pokemon available in the game. Later editions contain hundreds of new Pokemon for users to try to catch.

In the modern iteration, players can set out to try and capture Pokemon in the real world, of sorts. Players must explore their areas to track Pokemon on the app and throw Poke balls to catch them. Users have to be within a certain distance of the creatures to get them, or be physically present at a designated gym to battle other players. Along with catching Pokemon in the wild, Trainers can also obtain eggs that hatch into the critters - if the player walks a certain number of kilometers, first.

How Pokemon Go improves health
Because walking is essential to play the game, doctors predict that it can motivate more people to increase their levels of exercise. While most people know they need regular physical activity to stay healthy, many think of exercising as another chore they need to do - one they simply don't have the time for. Turning physical activity into games like Pokemon Go can help people reshape their outlooks on exercise. Rather than being a time consuming chore, it becomes entertainment that people are more eager to squeeze in to their days. 

Scientists with the University of Leicester reported that the game could have a key role in lowering obesity rates and related chronic diseases like diabetes. Walking is a cost-free, healthy, low-impact form of exercises that people can do most anywhere at any time. The game is also free to download and play - though there are options for in-app purchases for Trainers who want instant access to some of the games items - making it more convenient for people to get out and stay active, the Leicester study explained. It also encourages people to get up and take breaks from prolonged sitting which can improve cardiac health.

According to U.S. News and World Report, some rehabilitation centers are even using the game to help seniors with physical therapy. The game requires walking and balance to track Pokemon, and coordination and dexterity to throw Poke balls to capture the digital creatures. Therapists also reported that the game helps challenge and engage patients' minds, helping to fight depression and improving their alertness and memories. The game breaks up the monotony of physical therapy exercises and can help patients to be more excited about their treatments, potentially boosting their participation. 

Connecting generations through video games 
Adding to the versatility of the game is its mass appeal among different age groups. It's appropriate for most younger users and still engaging enough to capture the attention of adults as well. Nearly anyone with access to a smart device is able to play the game.

The app also inspires a general sense of community as people can walk together to track Pokemon or meet at Pokestops to collect items. Researchers with Texas A&M University stated that the game can help bring family members together to play in a active, healthy way. It could be an excellent outdoor activity for grandparents to play with their grandchildren, for example. 

"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," said Matt Hoffman, DNP and a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Nursing.

Kids today who have grown up with mobile technology may be more likely to understand the app than older relatives who are newer to smart phone gaming, providing valuable teaching moments between generations as they bond over the game, all while getting valuable exercise.