Laura Flynn Endres
Why Exercise Games Can Help You Get in Shape
Updated: Apr 4, 2022
Only about 20% of the population exercises regularly. Odds are, those people either take some pleasure in working out or they are quite disciplined.
The other 80%, however, don't meet the minimum standard of physical activity, 30 minutes per day. Reasons vary, naturally, but one is that many people simply don't enjoy it.
(You're breaking my heart, people. Breaking my heart!)
Most people understand and believe regular physical activity is important to staying healthy, so if that's not enough to motivate them, finding extrinsic motivation might help.
That's where games come in.
Recent reports say 3.1 billion people play video games. That's 40% of the world's population.
The reasons for gaming have changed too. It's not only about enjoyment, as it was billed way back in the beginning. Now, people play for the mental stimulation, the educational value, and to relax and relieve stress. Games have been shown to improve cognitive ability and enhance our intelligence!
In wildly unfair and misguided criticism, people dis gaming as "screen time," which implies people staring mindlessly at a screen, only consuming, not participating.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The research countering the worries and criticisms that gaming causes nothing but trouble is sound and ample.
Even parents have come around. Not only do they play themselves now, most parents see the educational value in gaming for their kids. Yes, shooter games are still among the most popular, but you can now find any sort of game online, via apps, through game consoles and websites, including board games, puzzles and word games, gambling and sports betting, art and music, adventure, and more.
Essentially anything you desire can be found in game form. Including FITNESS.
Oh, that's my cue.
Finding the motivation to exercise - or do anything you don't want to do - is far easier if you attach that task to something you already love.
Like attaching exercise to gaming.
When I got the idea to turn Get Fit Done into a game, I instantly knew it was the right thing to do. There are hundreds of 30-day challenges related to exercise and nutrition, and they're all the same. "Do this workout" or "don't eat these things" for 30 days straight. The rah-rahs along the way include motivational quotes ("If it doesn't challenge you, it doesn't change you!") and plenty of "hang in there, you got this, girl!" from the coach.
There is nothing wrong with those challenges. I've run many myself!
The problem? Even when you start the challenge feeling excited and motivated - "this time I'll stick with it!" - enthusiasm almost always wanes by the end of week two. I've seen it again and again. I've experienced it myself.
No amount of "atta girl" and fitspo quotes pasted over hot sculpted bodies are enough on those mornings you wake up feeling sluggish, resentful of the people who leap out of bed ready to do burpees, and realize that yet again, you simply Don't Like Exercising.
But if you get points for doing your workout? Something in your brain lights up.
If the idea of not unlocking the next level makes you twitchy? Your stubborn, competitive self wakes up.
If you don't want to let down your teammates? You'll exercise, even if you stomp, pout, and eye roll your way through it, because you don't want to be that teammate again.
In Get Fit Done, we play on teams - it's positive peer pressure done right, I like to say.
"There's just something about those imaginary points that gets me to do my 30 minutes of exercise. Even late at night before bed. It's dumb but it works!" says Diane, who has played Get Fit Done 18 times.
WHY GAMING WORKS
I think there's a misconception that we play games because they're fun.
But are they?
Fun is enjoyment, pleasure, playfulness, amusement. But when we play a game, we get frustrated. We get competitive. We have to focus, think creatively, be strategic, and know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. I'll argue we get a little devious, secretive, vindictive even.
Or is that just me? If I think an opponent got even a whiff of advantage, I internally and secretly vow to be their demise.
Settle yourself, Laura. Sheesh.
Game designer Sid Meier says, “a game is a series of interesting choices.” When we play a game, we agree to participate in a competition, follow a set of rules, perform certain actions, and then accept (or pout about) the results, win or lose.
More on losing in a minute.*
Gaming targets three psychological needs, according to recent research:
- competency, our need to become good at something
- autonomy, our need to feel free to do things on our own
- and relatedness, our need to feel like we matter, like we're contributing
Where my game, Get Fit Done shines, is relatedness. We play on teams! Knowing your participation contributes to the success of your teammates make all the difference.
We know, because we've tested the game without the team aspect. Every solo player struggled to stay engaged. Playing solo relegates you back to relying only on yourself. Then, even the imaginary points aren't quite as incentivizing.
Get Fit Done takes all the things that are great about gaming, what you get out of it and what it demands of you, and applies it to fitness.
And the best part: even if you lose the game, you win because daily exercise almost surely yields healthy benefits!
One of my very favorite quotes from my post-game survey was this one: "I lost the game, but also 5 pounds! Haha!"
Even when you lose the game, you WIN.
HOW COOL IS THAT.
Super cool, that's how cool, if I do say so myself.
Do You Want to Play a Game?
The next game is always right around the corner. A new one begins every 6 weeks!