As we look into the New Year, we’ll see gamification used to make millions of positive health changes essentially more fun.

As anyone who’s ever tried to lose weight knows, the most difficult part of the process is sustaining long term will-power and momentum after the initial excitement and burst of hope.

With fitness wearables and mHealth application consumption projected to increase by more than 30% in 2015, the stage is set for an epic showdown between the rising global obesity issue and the technology-driven dichotomy of the collectively deteriorating human will.

Digital health technology is now poised to drive a new health commitment paradigm when it comes to weight loss, fat loss, and lifestyle modifications via a new and exciting trend called “gamification.”

What Is Gamification?

Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems and increase users’ self-control, positive behavior, and contributions.

Simplified, gamification makes your life more like a game, which in turn takes out some of the seriousness and reduces the existential stress produced by one’s progress toward a goal.

Though the term was coined in 2002 by Nick Pelling, a British-born computer programmer and inventor, it did not gain popularity until 2010 when the term was recognized to be of widespread usage in a more specific sense referring to the incorporation of social/reward aspects of games into software.

Using the backdrop of increased funding and millions of mHealth application downloads in 2014, the data shows that gamification is quickly becoming an integral part of a powerful toolset for dismantling the world-wide obesity epidemic.

Will Gamification Help Adults?

It makes clear sense to incorporate digital health towards leveraging fun and games that are aimed at increasing well-being in children and young people, but can the approach persuade adults to adopt healthy habits as well?

Yes. The gamification methods are based on gratification and reward, not punishment. Our limbic brains like that, no matter our age or if we wear a tie or gym shorts to work.

Smart mHealth applications support the end-user in their fitness and health journeys. With a new year and new resolutions upon us, here are my picks for the best tools to have in your pocket:

7 Best Gamification Apps for Fitness In 2015

  • FitBit - Available on Android and iOS, Fitbit recently launched three separate challenges for you to extract data and steps out of your fitness social circle: Weekend Warrior, Daily Showdown, and the Workweek Hustle. The challenges are custom to your group and include cheers, taunts, and push updates. Those who accept the challenge in your group have their steps measured against other participants, and you can see micro-events of who’s winning, whether people are almost tied, or if anyone has hit their own daily personal goals. I’ve been using this for 3 months and can attest from walking an extra mile at 9pm just to beat a friend in a weekday challenge that it definitely serves to be a motivator.
  • Atari Fit - Brand new for 2015, Atari Fit will be packed with gamified workouts, multiplayer integrations, and numerous social share features. It will be compatible with the industry’s most popular wearable health and fitness devices, including Fitbit and RunKeeper and will also aggregate data from other world-renowned fitness apps, such as Google Health; allowing users to track all of their fitness activity statistics in one mobile application ecosystem. No word on the HealthKit iOS integration, as Apple isn’t jumping in—with the upcoming Apple watch looming on the 2015 horizon.
  • Nike + Running - In 2015, users can set the app to give various inspirational cheers throughout their run at various milestones. Users are also able to share their runs via social networks and ask for support from friends and family and allows users to compete against, or train with, friends and strangers alike by syncing and storing running routes, which can later be searched and shared.
  • Fitocracy - As you exercise, this workout tracker keeps track of your points, allowing you to level up, complete bonus quests and earn badges by reaching your milestones. Within the Fitocracy community, you can make friends, join a fitness social network and encourage others on the same skill level as yourself.  By placing you on a level that is indicative of your fitness skills, and grouping you with others at the same level, you create a community of people who are working towards common goals.
  • FitRPG - FitRPG transforms your Fitbit data into a character that can fight your friends, battle bosses, and go on quests using the steps, distance, and sleep. If you’re tired of seeing just numbers and graphs at the end of the day, or if looking at the Fitbit dashboard isn’t enough to motivate you to walk those extra 1000 steps, play FitRPG, a game that rewards you for your healthy habits. FitRPG turns your fitness data into your character’s strength, HP, endurance, dexterity, and experience. Go on fitness quests or engage in battles to level up. Sleep to revitalize your HP. FitRPG is promising exciting updates for 2015.
  • Strava - This cycling-rooted app allows you to track both your runs and rides with GPS, join challenges, and see how your running and riding compares with friends. You can set personal records and see how you stack up against friends, locals and pros, as well as join monthly challenges designed to push you further. Find your friends and motivate them with kudos and comments. Share Instagram photos from your activities on your Strava profile.
  • Map My Fitness - MMF allows you to add a social twist to your exercise routine. Get extra encouragement, cheer on your buddies or start a little friendly competition. Use Challenges to set goals, motivate yourself, and challenge your friends! You can track your results and compare them to the other members in the MapMyFitness community. Prizes are also an incentive and are given away for certain challenges.

The Gamified Life

When presented with a choice of the escalator or stairs, most people go for the escalator, even if they know walking up the stairs is better for health. But what would you do if the staircase was a giant piano?

A “fun theory” experiment tried exactly that and found that 66% more commuters opted for the stairs over the escalators, proving that fun can be a motivating factor for improving our health.

Gamification is of course not the only way to encourage healthy behavior changes, but it can be a solid tool for raising awareness in serious issues while helping societies overcome epidemics. Gamification also has potential to help those with chronic diseases to manage their medical schedules.

Whatever game and strategy works for each individual will be highly unique to their home and work situations, genetics, and personality-driven dispositions. For this reason, I believe we will see the vetting of thousands of mHealth apps to be forthcoming in 2015.

With increasingly busier days and less sleep, human willpower is being distracted like never before by modern day stimuli. Sometimes, we all need a push to overcome our vulnerabilities to these distractions. The good news is that a push doesn’t have to be boring.

As we look into the New Year, we’ll see gamification used to make millions of positive health changes essentially more fun.

That is something we can all smile about.

About the author: Josh Trent, NASM-CES, CPT, HLC, is a corrective exercise specialist and participatory sports technology expert with over 9 years in the fitness industry. His passion is to accelerate wellness evolution through the power of the Digital Health and Quantified Self movements. You can follow him on Twitter @wellnessforce, or through his website

The nuviun blog is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues in global digital health. The views are solely those of the author.