When I lived in Japan, I didn’t own a car. I had a bike, but it got stolen on base (naturally), and with less than a year left before returning to the US, I started walking instead.
A walking commute is really easy in a place like Japan, where public transportation is robust and accessible. I had my walk to work down to a science:
1. Leave the house for a twelve-minute walk to the train station;
2. Five minutes on the train;
3. A ten-minute walk from the train station to the base gate;
4. Ten minutes from the gate to the gym’s locker room, where I stashed my uniforms;
5. A quick costume change, then, depending on where it was parked, a five- or ten-minute walk to the ship.
After a few weeks, I could predict to the minute what time I would cross the brow in the morning, and I was always on time.
The combination of walking to work and running around the ship often resulted in jubilant vibration on my wrist sometime before lunch: “Congrats!” my fitness watch would say. “You met your step goal of 10,000 steps!”
I took for granted how easy it was to be active when it was organically built in to the day. Coming back to the US was a rude awakening.
Driving a car to sit in an office all day made me very sedentary. I had to make time for physical activity like I never did in Japan, but lifting weights and swimming and running never seemed to get me back to where I was before. I became less mentally resilient, less fit, more susceptible to binge eating and drinking, and had difficulty sleeping. Not all of this is reducible to inactivity alone, but it definitely didn’t help.
A difference, it seemed, was a huge lack of walking – light but sustained activity throughout the day. I thought I would try to recreate the commute that I had in Japan, at least in duration: 45-60 minutes of walking in the morning and evening. I tried reincorporating walking into my daily schedule around this time last year, but fell out of the habit when work got busier and I went on deployment. What could I do this time around to maintain motivation?
Then I saw a Polygon video about how Pokémon Go got good again. It piqued my interest, especially with Sword and Shield coming out soon. I thought I’d give it another try, hoping it would keep me motivated to be more active.
Playing Pokémon Go gives me a sense of purpose while moving around town. It’s easy to forget about a step goal when you’re bouncing between gyms and raids, propelled forward by that part of your brain that heard GOTTA CATCH ‘EM ALL at age 7 and was never the same again.
It’s been two months now since I picked up the game again. I can’t believe how quickly it has gone by. Without it, I might have lost motivation by now; waking up extra early to walk the loop around my neighborhood quickly loses its appeal based solely on its own merits (ie, the benefit of exercise). Now, when I’m tempted to roll over and go back to sleep, all I have to do is open up Pokémon Go and see that one of my precious Poké-children was defeated in a gym overnight, and it’s enough to get me out of bed and outside, excited, ready to kick some ass in return – even if I have to walk all the way to the town mural sign. Especially if I have to walk all the way to the town mural sign.
There is no such thing as a magic bullet, a cure-all for whatever bodily concern ails you. I don’t expect to step-step-step my way to an elite level of fitness. But adding more walking into my schedule helps. Even if I change nothing else, walking at least 10,000 steps each day helps me fall asleep and stay asleep, regulate my appetite, and improve my mood. And, unlike most other exercise, it doesn’t make me miserable to perform.
Playing Pokémon Go adds a layer of fun and discovery to something that might otherwise become a chore when life happens and other things try to claim my time. It pushes me out of the house even when I’m at my laziest, it gives me small goals that add up over time, and it encourages me to go even farther than I would on my own. I’m going to try to walk 30 miles this week! I never would have made (or stuck to) that goal without Pokémon Go.
So I’m 30 years old and a children’s game is giving me more motivation to stay active than any of my grown-adult rationalizations or complex fitness apps. There are a lot of things about 2019 that I wasn’t expecting. Pokémon Go is a surprising but welcome addition.