PORTLAND, Oregon — You may be taking steps — literally — in the right direction for your health by playing the ubiquitous, popular Pokémon Go.

In a study presented Wednesday at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention/Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health 2017 Scientific Sessions, the smartphone game increased participants’ daily steps, especially among young adults with low physical activity levels or those who are overweight or obese.

In Pokémon Go, a location-based augmented reality game, players move around a physical location capturing animated creatures on smartphones and other mobile devices. Since its release in July 2016, Pokémon Go has generated a lot of buzz. But few studies have examined whether playing the game can increase a person’s level of physical activity.

“Our findings suggest that active-play games, such as Pokémon Go, may encourage people who live sedentary lifestyles, who otherwise may not participate in traditional forms of exercise, to increase their physical activity,” said Hanzhang Xu, a graduate student at Duke University School of Nursing in Durham, North Carolina. “We think our study could have implications for the design of other digital health interventions that encourage people to exercise more.”

For the study, 167 iPhone users who played Pokémon Go in July 2016 provided screenshots of their daily steps reported by the iPhone Health app June 15-July 31, 2016. Before playing Pokémon Go, participants walked an average 5,678 steps a day. After playing the game, they walked an average 7,654 steps — an increase of 1,976 steps each day.

Researchers also found:

  • Participants were twice as likely to reach 10,000 daily steps after playing Pokémon Go than they were before playing the game.
  • The percentage of days in which the 10,000-daily step goal was reached increased from 15.3 percent before playing Pokémon Go to 27.5 percent after playing the game.
  • Participants who had low activity levels before playing Pokémon Go or who were overweight or obese appear to benefit most from the game.
  • Participants with the lowest physical activity level at baseline walked nearly 3,000 additional steps each day after playing Pokémon Go. Participants who were overweight or obese also walked about 3,000 additional steps per day.

The average increase of nearly 2,000 steps per day may seem small. But previous studies show this increase lowers the risk of having a heart attack or stroke by 8 percent in high-risk people.

Although the researchers found a significant increase in physical activity after playing Pokémon Go, Xu said the initial interest may decline over time.

Still, mobile games may be another way to promote physical activity, Xu said.

“Considering the low level of physical activity in the United States, doing some physical activity is always better than sitting on the couch,” she said. “While current physical activity guidelines recommend activity such as running or swimming to promote health and fitness, it should be noted that the best form of physical activity is the one that people will do.”