From time to time, everybody needs a little extra “oomph” to get them off the couch and into their workout gear. Now the motivationally challenged have a new tool: the health and fitness trend of “gamification” using mobile apps.

Have you noticed your co-workers in the office chatting about Charmander? Kids and their parents roaming around the park with mobile phones pointing and yelling “Pikachu!?” Yep, that’s Pokemon Go, the hottest trend in mobile gamification that has people traveling all over town – and getting exercise while they do it – on the hunt for those adorable, anime pocket monsters.

This burgeoning industry promises an explosion of smartphone applications designed to motivate positive health behaviors, such as physical exercise or healthy eating, while keeping users engaged in a series of on-going challenges and rewards. In a recent study published in the journal JMIR Serious Games, researchers identified a representative sample of free health and fitness apps on iTunes by searching words like “walking,” “fitness,” and “health games.” What they found was about 50% of the apps in the sample employed some form of gamification or reward system. While the concept of challenge and incentive provides a common theme between apps, a huge range of variety in reward strategies ensure that every user can find a “carrot” that works for them. Try these games to get you moving!

Zombies Run!

If the words wellness and zombies in the same sentence pique your interest, this post-apocalyptic zombie app might be for you. In an ingenious blend of exciting story-telling, interval training, and community building, users work to re-build humanity and find other survivors, while escaping from zombies. Zombies give chase while users walk, run or jog in search of items needed to repair their home bases. This cardio-focused app can be customized to suit pace, fitness level, and personal music preferences.

Muse

Decidedly different, Muse uses a headset and mobile app to provide feedback on brain activity during meditation. The headset measures the brain’s natural electric fields and reports whether the mind is calm, neutral or active during meditation. In addition, Muse delivers what the app calls soundscapes, or real-time audio feedback, that use sounds like weather (rain, waves, and other abstract sounds), background white noise, or birds to promote mental calm and clarity. An activity graph, that records brain activity, is available after every session.

Pact

If “Zombies and Zen” aren’t your cup of tea, the Pact app might get your mojo going through cash incentives. The premise behind Pact allows users to:

  1. Commit to one of three “pacts” (gym, veggie or food log)
  2. Track progress with the app
  3. Reap rewards in the form of “attaboys,” bragging rights and even cash

GPS tracking and other services keep users honest and rewards are based on the number of days committed to and completed in a pact. When a pact is kept, the user receives a payout for each day and pact-keepers report earning of anywhere from 30 cents to 5 dollars per week.  And, speaking of carrots, Pact introduces a pretty effective “stick.” Users who do not keep their pacts pay out to those who do.

In terms of motivation, gamification shows true promise, when partnered or integrated with a balanced exercise regimen of cardiovascular, resistance and flexibility training. Fitness is a daily habit that requires intrinsic motivation and can often feels thankless and tedious. While the process of fitness bears fruit slowly over time and requires patience, gamification apps create instant reward, recognition, and gratification.

The other benefit of fitness apps that use gamification tech comes in the form of community. Apps can connect users across the country and the globe. For those without access to a health club or yoga center, connection with like-minded individuals in a common pursuit of wellness profoundly supports odds of success. With a little common sense and an eye to keeping your fitness regimen balanced, there’s no harm in experimenting a bit. At least you will be ready if the zombies come!

Sources:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4307823/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4529492/#app1