Gotta catch `em all, safely

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No one could have predicted the craze that is Pokémon Go, or how many people it would get outside and get moving this summer. An augmented reality game, Pokémon Go sends players through parks, down city streets, and even to the ocean – all on a hunt to catch different game characters.

Though the game may be getting kids off the couch, it’s important to remember that there are many risks to any type of excessive gaming. While there is an ongoing debate about the effects of video games on a person's health, video gaming addiction can cause the following:

Repetitive stress injury and carpal tunnel syndrome. Repetitive stress injury, once known as “BlackBerry thumb,” is a condition in which numbness and pain occurs when an area of the body is strained from repetitive motion. Similarly, carpal tunnel, often associated with computer use, can be caused by excessive use of a video game controller or even a smart phone.

Headaches and eyestrain. Overdoing screen time can lead to eyestrain and often headaches. Try setting screen time limits to prevent this risk in your kids.

Eating irregularities. Intense concentration on a game can lead some gamers to not take the time to make healthy meals. Gamers may reach for quick pre-packed foods that don’t have all the nutrients needed for a balanced diet.

Video games addiction may be harmful to one’s well-being; however, games can have positive effects if done in moderation. The creation of technology that promotes physical activity is an encouraging trend. While it is not a new phenomenon for games to require movement, Pokémon Go is different than other “exergames,” causing users to not only move, but move outdoors.

Like any other outdoor activity, there are some things to be cognizant of when playing Pokémon Go:

Sun safety. The sun is stronger than you think, and the rays only strengthen in the late summer months. Concrete, sand and water reflect 85 percent to 90 percent of the sun’s UV rays – so whether you are swimming, biking, or playing Pokémon Go try your best to cover up and don’t forget the sunscreen!

Risk of heat-related illness. Consider playing in the morning or evening hours when temperatures are not as hot as Charmander’s fiery tail.

Heat-related illness happens when the body’s temperature control system is overloaded and children, especially, are at greater risk. Staying cool and hydrated is a great way to beat the heat.

Hydration. Drink water more than the soda and other sugary drinks that can have reverse effects on hydration. Aim to drink eight glasses of water a day.

Also, remember to stay aware of surroundings. Despite the game’s warning to “stay aware of your surroundings,” people are so engrossed in the game that they’re walking into trees, having mishaps with revolving doors and tripping over sidewalks. Remember – users should be alert at all times and be mindful of screen time.

You may not have planned to spend your family trip playing Pokémon, but the game can be a fun way to interact with destinations at home or afar.

Consider going on a Pokémon scavenger-hunt as a family. Pokémon love to hang out in large public areas with historical relevance, so venture to a park or historic site to satisfy and educate your gamer.

Gus Manocchia, MD, is senior vice president and chief medical officer for Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island.

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