I am a primary care physician.  A great deal of what I do is to try to get people to change behaviors.  Increasingly, I am acting as a weight and fitness coach.  Do you know of any truly compelling games that my patients could play?

One game I would love to see would be one where patients could help each other achieve better behaviors and better health.  Like a mentoring program, with leveling up.

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A few that I personally like:

1. Teemo - iPhone app with Travel-inspired fitness challenges, like squats and step ups. Very compelling storyline, and a points and rewards system. You can participate with other people you know, so I was working on a tour of Europe with my brother. Very fun!

2. Fit Orbit - Online personal training + diet planning - not really a game, but genuinely very helpful to me. . Cons are that it is $40 a month, that you need to have some sense of good exercise form, and that you have to not be overwhelmed by the idea of changing both your diet and your exercise at once. Pros: You can talk to the personal trainer as much as you want. It's a real person. They're certified. They have many different styles of trainers to choose from. Much cheaper than getting a trainer at the gym. It's really taught me a lot about nutrition, which I can't say about programs like Weight Watchers.

3. Super Better - This is indeed a mentoring program with leveling up. A game to help you achieve all types of fitness goals, from eating better to quitting smoking, to exercising more. Free, based in a web browser so you don't need a smart phone. Best if you're playing with allies (friends and family). Somewhat self structured in terms of what activities you take on. Good for working on behavioral change. But perhaps not as in depth as some other games and tools if you need a great deal of guidance, like day-to-day support on eating and exercising.

4. Fitocracy - Track your exercise, get points and badges, get encouragement from friends. I have to admit I've never stuck with this one, but my brother seems to like it.

5. Zamzee - I have no personal opinion about this one but saw it at Games for Health, I think. It's a pedometer that encourages kids to walk more by connecting activity to rewards. But I'm not personally keen on their site design.

6. Fitbit - Same, for adults. Quite expensive for a pedometer, however.

7. Daily Burn - Workouts with some interactivity and gaming components. For intermediate to advanced exercises. Best thing about these workouts is that they are sensible (something I'd expect to experience in a gym), portable - you can watch them anywhere, and have nice interactive features. Nutrition component is poor. There is a monthly cost. Basically a good alternative to renting exercise DVDs. Does track progress in completing sit ups, burpees, etc over time.

8. When I was getting started with exercise I found some Wii games to be very helpful:

- Wii Fit - perfect for beginners, but not great for people who have moved beyond that stage. Sometimes getting started is the hardest part and it's great for that.
- EA Active - I didn't like this one because I couldn't get it to work right but it's based on traditional personal training sessions. My husband and brother had a better experience than I did with it but I wouldn't recommend it.
- Just Dance, ABBA Dance, Michael Jackson the Experience - Dancing games and excellent fun cardio workouts. Highly recommended. Comparable in rigorousness to taking a dancing class, or hopping on a bike at the gym.

Thanks Sarah!  I am trying out Teemo now.  I already tried SuperBetter, because it seemed to have much potential.  I could not figure out how I might incorporate it into my practice, beyond telling patients to "go try SuperBetter". Any ideas?  Could I tell people my account name and ask them to add me to their team?  So I could be on multiple patients' teams?  Could I quickly assess their progress on SuperBetter, and provide them with advice/encouragement very quickly?  What kinds of maladies or conditions can SuperBetter be used for?

Yes, you can be an ally for multiple people and patients, as long as they were comfortable with that. I've found that Super Better encourages me to be a little silly and very honest in the pursuit of getting better, so I'm very careful about who I select as my ally. But in yes, allies can see exactly what the other person is doing and provide advice, encouragement and quests for the other person to complete. 

You can use Super Better for anything, but Power Packs are available for certain types of illnesses that take time to recover from: concussion recovery, weight loss, quitting something (like smoking), self esteem, depression, stress reduction. I'm not sure what else. When you try it out, load some of the Power Packs to see how they work.

You might try Googling "Nerd Fitness". It's not an actual video game but instead it is the website of a personal trainer who uses video game level up systems to help people make meaningful progress in improving their fitness and health.

Hi David,

I'm a 4th year psychiatry resident, so I fully understand your difficulty motivating patients to adopt healthier behaviors. Recently I had an experience that made me realize how useful games can be in this context. After being diagnosed with breast cancer, I had to have a double mastectomy. My recovery from the surgery was slower and more painful than I expected. Even though, as a doctor, I knew I would feel better if I started exercising again, I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Then, I purchased a Striiv pedometer which has a built in game along with a number of other motivational tools. Within two weeks I had gone from couch potato to walking several miles a day. It was an amazing transformation and I had a great time doing it. Since then I've encouraged many of my family members to use Striiv to kickstart their own exercise regimens with remarkable success.

I plan to use Striiv and other systems like it in the future to help my patients when possible. Maybe it could help yours too.



Wow Karin that is inspiring.  I saw Striiv and was interested.  I personally got a fitbit but it does not seem to be as much like a game as Striiv.

Did you try SuperBetter or other online tool?

Yes. I started using SuperBetter about 2 weeks ago to help me get ready to go back to work. It has some nice features, but most people need more structure and clearer rewards than the game provides. My guess is SuperBetter will work best for patients already working closely with a health care provider to set goals and identify useful strategies for meeting those goals. I'm already looking forward to SuperBetter 2.0 and all the features I hope they'll add to make it stickier and juicier (more like a traditional game).



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