This Article is From Sep 17, 2016

How Pokemon Go Took Over My Life - And Improved It

Yes, Pokemon Go's first - almost hysterical - burst of popularity has faded. America's streets are filled with ever fewer zombielike players with their eyes turned to their smartphone screens as they wander the real world in search of digital critters.

But I'm still one of them. I play every day. Probably too much. I play it on my bus ride into work, at my desk and - much to his chagrin - when my husband is trying to get my attention.

Right now, I'm just shy of level 29. Since downloading the app on July 6, I've registered 117 types of Pokemon to my Pokedex - the encyclopedia of creatures that players are on a quest to fill by "catching 'em all." I've captured a total of 3,558 Pokemon and have visited Pokestops, places that give out free in-game items and points toward reaching the next level, 7,381 times. And I've won more than 700 battles at gyms that three rival teams compete to control. (I'm on team Valor, in case you were wondering.)

But my Pokemon Go obsession isn't just a product of my compulsive personality. It's because Pokemon Go is the only app that's been able to trick me into exercising.

To understand why that's a big deal, you need to know that I hate exercise. Sure, I love hiking, and I stuck with aerial silks, a type of acrobatics where you climb up long swaths of fabric to swing and flip through the air, for a year because they offered me rewards like beautiful scenery or a new highflying trick to show off. But things like running or weightlifting always felt like a chore to me. And though I've considered straight fitness apps in the past, they seemed more intimidating than empowering.

For a long time, my lazy lifestyle wasn't a problem because I had a fast metabolism. But now that I'm inching toward 30, things have changed a bit - and some clothes I've kept in rotation since high school were getting too snug to wear.

So for over two months, I've crept out of my house almost every morning at 5 - capturing digital critters while listening to podcasts before most of my neighbors get out of bed or the sun peeks over the horizon.

Nostalgia definitely is a factor here. I'm part of the Gameboy generation and spent countless hours battling my way around Kanto and Johto. But the real motivation is that like hiking or aerial silks, Pokemon Go offers me a carrot instead of a stick. I don't play just because of my vanity or worries about the health effects of my sedentary lifestyle - I stick with it because the experience is enough to distract me from the fact that I hate sweating.

And that's no accident: One of Pokemon Go developer Niantic's goals was to build a gamified fitness app. In an interview with Business Insider, Niantic chief executive John Hanke said the game was designed to use catching Pokemon as an incentive to get users moving, unlike fitness apps that make you feel like "a failed Olympic athlete" by pressuring you to meet daily goals.

And Pokemon Go's core mechanic - walking around - is good for you. According to the Harvard Medical School report "Walking for Health," walking just two-and-a-half hours per week can cut heart disease risk by 30 percent as well as reduce risks for diabetes and cancer. And Pokemon Go's ability to get people outside has garnered praise from some medical professionals because exercise is good for mental health, too.

Niantic's plan clearly worked on me. The app says I've walked more than 250 miles with it open so far - although, in the interest of full disclosure, District of Columbia traffic can get so bad it sometimes confuses my bus commute with walking.

Sure, my daily walks aren't the most rigorous exercise plan. And my weight hasn't changed much - but I can now squeeze back into one of my favorite high school dresses.

© 2016 The Washington Post

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