Health organizations from the American Heart Association to the Center for Disease Control tout the benefits of exercise. Getting exercise has a wide variety of benefits including improved heart health, a decreased risk of depression and help with weight control. Though most people know they need to exercise, fitting it into a busy schedule can be difficult. Recent research has shown that turning exercise into a game can be a powerful motivator to work out.

Gamification and Exercise
Gamification is a term used to describe taking a process that already exists and combining it with game mechanics. Gamification intends to improve engagement with the activity and motivate users to continue to use the process. Combining gamification with the process of exercising can encourage people to improve their health.

A 2017 study followed two groups of people for 12 weeks who used a fitness watch to track their steps. Half of the people in the study had their data put into a game where they could earn points based on their steps. At the end of the study, researchers found that those in the game group had an average increase of 1,661 steps per day compared to the other group. Other studies have found similar results.

How Apps are Encouraging People to Get Fit
App and website developers are turning exercise into a game to encourage people to get fit and get moving. These games come in the form of challenges, being able to move up levels or unlock achievements based on exercise or virtual races where people can compete with others across the country. Different apps focus on different health goals, which may include:

  • Food apps where users get points for healthful eating choices
  • Challenge apps that give different workout moves to accomplish each day such as a set number of push-ups or sit-ups
  • Pedometer apps that count the number of steps taken
  • Intermittent fasting apps that give windows for fasting and non-fasting

The Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation estimates that $117 billion of healthcare costs each year are related to a lack of movement. Encouraging people to exercise by turning it into a game can help improve the fitness of Americans and reduce these costs.