no comments

Game On: Gamification in Health and Wellness

Rapid changes in technology are constantly unveiling new ways for us to interact with the world, making tracking your health and wellness activity easier than ever. Now more than ever, Cell phones and other mobile devices are being used to tap into previously unseen potential in the world of health and wellness. The “have it your way” age of health and technology means that living well has never been easier or more rewarding. This is due, in part, to gamification.

If you use apps, or online devices to set health and wellness goals and track your progress, you have probably experienced gamification, which is gradually appearing in many areas of health care by rewarding healthy behaviors. Here’s a peek into gamification basics and how it can help you live a healthier life. 

What is gamification?

Gamification is the process of adding elements that you would normally see in a video game to tasks to make them more engaging. It has been used for decades across marketing, education, and other industries. Using gamelike rewards and incentives, paired with goals, can motivate people to adopt and maintain healthy habits. Gamification elements include:

  • Goal setting
  • Capacity to overcome challenges
  • Providing feedback on performance
  • Reinforcement
  • Comparing progress
  • Social connectivity
  • Fun and playfulness

How can gaming improve health?

Gamification uses basic behavioral science to encourage healthy lifestyle changes. Lessons learned from the gaming industry help create an experience that makes you naturally want to keep using an app or program, which helps you stay engaged and boosts your chance for success. It’s important to note that gamification can encourage lasting behavior change, additional to existing support tools and resources.

Apps using gaming strategies are on the rise to help people become more active, manage chronic health conditions, take medications correctly, have more fun in physical rehabilitation, and improve emotional health. Many popular health and wellness apps use gamification to help users succeed and keep them motivated. Examples you may be familiar with include: exergaming, wearable device feedback, online apps and trackers, virtual support and leaderboards, and wellness competitions.

Does it work?

Several studies over the past decade investigated gamification’s impact on health and wellness. In one study, researchers reported that activity apps like Pokémon Go can lead to an increase in physical activity over a 30-day period. Researchers also found that when users of an anxiety app played a 40-minute game, they reduced their anxiety and stress levels. In another study focusing on a diabetes prevention app, researchers reported weight loss, decreased cholesterol, and improved self-care as positive outcomes.

What’s next?

Odyssey is a new gamified app that was developed by the UPMC Health Plan. They adopted tried and true methods used by the health coaching team to develop an experience that engages members who are looking to improve their health in a fun, personalized way. UPMC Health Plan Members can enroll in 5 different programs: nutrition, physical activity, weight management, stress management, and tobacco cessation programs where they will be introduced to a virtual health coach, given access to a variety of helpful tools, and provided with a wealth of educational materials to review. Odyssey is designed to fit into anyone’s daily routine by putting the helpful insights of a health coach in the palm of your hand, ready to go at any time, day or night.

Using game design elements in health and wellness has the potential to help individuals achieve their goals. As digital media and app-based health and wellness programs continue to grow, pay attention to how your favorite app keeps you engaged. Chances are, it’s using some of the ingredients of gamification.

Allam, Ahmed, Kostova, Zlatina, Nakamoto, Kent, & Schulz, Peter Johannes. (2015, January). The effect of social support features and gamification on a web-based intervention for rheumatoid arthritis patients: randomized controlled trial. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 17(1).

Althoff, Tim, White, Ryen W., & Horvitz, Eric. (2016, December). Influence of Pokémon Go on physical activity: study and implications. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 18(12).

Buday, Richard, Baranowski, Tom, & Thompson, Debbe. (2012, August). Fun and games and boredom. Games for Health Journal, 1(4), 257–261.

Castro Sweet, Cynthia M., Chiguluri, Vinay, Gumpina, Rajiv, Abbott, Paul, Madero, Erica N., Payne, Mike, & Prewitt, Todd. (2018, June). Outcomes of a digital health program with human coaching for diabetes risk reduction in a Medicare population. Journal of Aging and Health, 30(5), 692–710.

Cugelman, Brian. (2013, December). Gamification: what it is and why it matters to digital health behavior change developers. JMIR Serious Games, 1(1).

Deterding, Sebastian, Dixon, Dan, Khaled, Rilla, & Nacke, Lennart. (2011, September 28–30). From game design elements to gamefulness: defining “gamification.” MindTrek ’11 Proceedings of the 15th International Academic MindTrek Conference: envisioning Future Media Environments, 9–15.

Dennis, Tracy A. & O’Toole, Laura J. (2014, September). Mental health on the go: effects of a gamified attention-bias modification mobile application in trait anxious adults. Clinical Psychological Science, 2(5), 576–590.

Schoech, Dick, Boyas Javier F., Black Beverly M., & Elias-Lambert, Nada. (2013, January). Gamification for behavior change: lessons from developing a social, multiuser, web-tablet based prevention game for youths. Journal of Technology in Human Services, 31(3), 197–217.

Johnson, Daniel, Deterding, Sebastian, Kuhn, Kerry-Ann, Staneva, Aleksandra, Stoyanov, Stoyan, & Hides, Leanne. (2016, November). Gamification for health and wellbeing: a systematic review of the literature. Internet Interventions, 6, 89–106.

Patel, Mitesh S., Benjamin, Emelia J., Volpp, Kevin G., Fox, Caroline S., Small, Dylan S., Massaro, Joseph. M., & Manders, Emily S. et al. (2017, October). Effect of a game-based intervention designed to enhance social incentives to increase physical activity among families: The BE FIT randomized clinical trial. JAMA Internal Medicine, 177(11), 1586–1593.

Primack, Brian A., Carroll, Mary V., McNamara, Megan, Klem, Mary L., King, Brandy, Rich, Michael, & Nayak, Smita et al. (2012, June). Role of video games in improving health-related outcomes: a systematic review. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 42(6), 630–638.

Sween, Jennifer, Wallington, Sherrie F., Sheppard, Vanessa, Taylor, Teletia, Llanos, Adana. A., & Adams-Campbell, Lucile. L. (2014, October). The role of exergaming in improving physical activity: a review. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 11(4), 864–870.