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Using gamification apps could help people be more physically active

With low participation rates in physical activity continuing to be a public health concern, we need to look into novel interventions and techniques such as gamification. That’s according to a paper by Leeds Beckett University academics.

Pokemon app

Gamification is the term used to describe the application of gaming mechanics and principles to non-game contexts with the aim of increasing motivation and engagement. Common attributes of gamification include rewards (such as badges, points, leader boards and progression bars), competition, consumer choice, tutorials, incremental challenges and narrative.  

Some examples of gamification used within everyday non-game contexts include coffee shop stamp cards where you receive a free drink, loyalty schemes where points lead to greater benefits, leader boards and attendance charts in schools, and targets placed on the lids of bins to help reduce littering.

Dr Katie Pickering, PhD Graduate, and Dr Andy Pringle, Reader in Physical Activity, Exercise and Health at Leeds Beckett’s Carnegie School of Sport, were responsible for the paper.

“Widespread gamification strategies have many similarities with commonly used behaviour change techniques (BCTs) in health promotion including goal setting, providing feedback on performance, reinforcement, comparing progress and social connectivity.

“BCTs are fundamental drivers of change of any health behaviour and are effective for increasing physical activity adoption.

“Things that influence behaviours towards physical activity include an individual’s previous experiences and attitudes, whether it’s accepted and supported within an individual’s social network, their physical environment, and policies in the individual’s region that support and promote physical activity.”

Previous research showed that the BCTs that are effective for increasing physical activity are also incorporated into the design of gamified apps. The combinations of BCTS embedded within these apps were reported as self-monitoring and goal setting with the addition of either a focus on past success or non-specific awards and incentives.  

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