It seems that most of us are so busy working at sedentary jobs and caring for family members that exercise isn’t a priority. Or perhaps we feel the need to be entertained and traditional exercise is, well, boring. As part of the HX360 meeting for start-ups at HIMSS15, leaders from several gaming companies met to discuss ways in which they can make exercise more exciting.
Americans aren’t very good at staying healthy
Health departments from around the world are encouraging their constituents to become more active. But it’s not working.
Globally, in 2010, only 23% of adults were insufficiently physically active. It should come as no surprise that older adults were less active than younger adults, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). By region, the Eastern Mediterranean (31%) and the Americas (32%) were about even with the highest prevalence of physical activity, with the South-East Asia (15%) and Africa (21%) with the lowest.
One in three youth-aged Europeans is obese, according to the WHO. In the US, only 51.6% of adults meet the CDC’s weekly aerobic activity guidelines (150 minutes of aerobic activity per week), 29.3% met the muscle strengthening guidelines (all muscle groups twice weekly), and only 3.4% biked or walked work. Things look even worse in Canada, where 85% of adults failed to meet the Canada Physical Activity Guidelines in 2014.
It seems that most of us are so busy working at sedentary jobs and caring for family members that exercise isn’t a priority. Or perhaps we feel the need to be entertained and traditional exercise is, well, boring.
Not your mother’s wellness companies
While at HIMSS15, I attended a panel discussion led by executives from gaming companies entitled, Gaming the (Healthcare) System. Panelists included Dr. Sarah Hoffe, Director of Physician Services at Moffitt Cancer Center, and Mike Tinney, CEO of Fix-Fit, and Michael Fergusson, CEO of Ayogo.
Mike Tinney left the video gaming industry to start a wellness company because he saw a way to make fitness more fun, and more sticky (and I’m not talking sweat). Tinney says of his company:
We’re in the business of helping America not suck at being healthy.
What we talk about when we talk about gaming
Mirriam-Webster defines gamification as “the process of adding games or game-like elements to something to encourage participation.” Tinney says that, for him and other industry insiders, gamification is “a horribly overused word.”
This might seem odd—a CEO in the gaming industry referring to gamification as an overused word—but the HX360 panel agreed with him.
When marketing departments fund the design and implementation of new digital tools—as is often the case—they are more interested in gaining market share than changing behaviors. There's a lot more to gamification than creating a shiny new toy to attract customers.
There’s an underlying science of engagement and play—it’s not just something you can slap onto a healthcare app,
—says Michael Fergusson, CEO of Ayogo.
Games have the potential to meaningfully engage patients in their health and change their health behaviors, in part because people like to win, but also because they reach patients outside the four-walls of the hospital.
According to Fergusson,
Mobile devices are the most personal pieces of technology we have. The way my daughter acts when I pick up her phone, it’s like I’m taking a piece of her body away. Increasingly, it’s a conduit for us to reach out to our social network, but also into our bodies.
In the digital health realm, gamification gets personal. It’s not just about collecting badges and making it to the next level, it’s about eating less sugar, brushing your teeth regularly, taking your medicine as prescribed, and getting much needed exercise. Tinney says:
Games are all about behavior change… Incremental behavior change. It’s a health journey with more doing and less academic learning.
And this innovative way to engage patients in their health couldn’t come at a better time. According to Hoffe:
Every day in my job, I see patients who are less and less engaged. To the point where, when I ask them what pills they are taking, they can’t even tell me. Gaming could promote positive behavior and outcomes.
The nuviun blog is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues in global digital health. The views are solely those of the author.