Could Mobile Apps Be the Solution for Getting Kids to Play Outside More?

Company aims to encourage outdoor activities using interactive video games

While easy access to digital entertainment certainly has some advantages, the downside to the growing popularity of things like mobile apps and video games is that they encourage sedentary behavior.

This is especially a problem for young children who are now being born into and brought up in a world where technology seems to be taking over almost every aspect of life. In fact, a growing body of research indicates that kids are spending less and less time outside.

report by the Children and Nature Network found that from the 1980s to 2000s children’s lives have become significantly more structured and media oriented, leaving them with less time to play in nature independently.

Of 800 mothers in the U.S. who were surveyed in 2007, 71 percent said that they remember playing outside every day as kids, but only 26 percent said that their own children spend time outside every day. The study’s author associated the decline with obstacles such as TV and computers as well as safety concerns.

“We all grew up playing outdoors. But now video games are creating an immobile, house-bound generation,” said Steve Calhoun, creator and CEO of GenZPlay, a startup that develops interactive outdoor gaming apps for kids.

According to Calhoun, the technology combines video games with the outdoors using Bluetooth capabilities. Activity trackers record body movements and insert the player into a game or movie as an animated character.

Calhoun was inspired to create GenZPlay after recognizing that his 4-year-old son had an early attraction to video games. He wanted to find a way to encourage children to play outside without making it feel like a punishment or that their video games were being taken away.

The idea is to use intrinsic motivation to help children recognize playing outside as fun. “When an activity is fun and you see immediate results, the feeling of achievement or challenge will likely motivate you to do it again,” the company explained in a press release.

This is important given that several studies have associated outdoor activity with a long list of health benefits.

“In a 2011 meta-analysis of relevant studies, researchers concluded that compared to indoor workouts, exercising outside causes greater engagement and revitalization, lowers depression and increases a person’s enjoyment of the activity,” says health and fitness expert Mark Sisson, author of The Primal Blueprint and creator of

Sisson says that people who work out outside are more likely to repeat the exercise again in the future because outdoor workouts tend to feel less like work and more like play.

“They’re more fun, and they perpetuate themselves,” he said, backing up the main concept behind the GenZPlay games.

All of the apps feature an exercise theme as well as a “choose-your-own-path” adventure. Examples include a golfing game and a customizable treasure hunt game.

“Through mobile apps we can combine technology and kinesiology programs with fun, health-conscious games to teach, entertain and coach generations to be the person they want to be,” said Calhoun.

What do you think? Is this a good solution for encouraging kids to spend more time outside? Let us know in the comments section below or Tweet us @theactivetimes.

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