Adding social gaming elements to a behaviour tracking programme can help people exercise more frequently and decrease their body-mass index,according to new research.
The results suggest that “gamification” may improve the effectiveness of traditional health interventions for motivating behaviour change and can lead to better health outcomes.
For the 10-week program,researchers from University of South Carolina,and the University at Buffalo,the State University of New York (SUNY) studied young and middle-aged adults across a range of lifestyles,from sedentary to very active.
Study participants invited someone they knew,usually friends or family members,to participate with them. One group of participants was randomly assigned to keep an on-line diary of physical activity,a commonly used strategy for activity adherence and weight management.
The diary is part of Wellness Partners,a programme developed at USC to explore the role of socially networked games in encouraging lifestyle changes.
A second group was asked to keep a version of the Wellness Partners diary that included social gaming,such as earning points for their exercise reporting,redeeming them for animated activities performed by their virtual character,collecting memories and earning gifts they shared with other participants in their network.
After five weeks,the groups switched programmes. The results revealed that a combination of the diary and social gaming helped the participants exercise more frequently,leading to decreased body-mass index,a strong wellness indicator.
The effects were stronger in the groups that started with gaming and were sustained after gaming elements were removed.
“A big part of its success is that this programme required the engagement of friends and family in tracking open-ended health goals,” said lead researcher Marientina Gotsis.