BYU Professors Use Pokémon-themed Race to Help Students Evolve in Fitness

On Saturday, October 22, the BYU College of Nursing and the campus chapter of Sigma Theta Tau (an international nursing honor society) will host the Pokéthon, a 3K run/walk event centered on Pokémon Go. Participants can dress up as characters from the game or wear their team colors, all while going to lures set up on the course.

To some, this seems like a fun way to spend a Saturday morning. For nursing professors Dr. Neil Peterson and Craig Nuttall, the Pokéthon is the beginning of a campus-wide health initiative to help students enjoy being active.

Peterson and Nuttall—both members of the American College of Sports Medicine, a fitness organization—recently found out that a program offered by the ACSM, Exercise is Medicine, has a college subcategory. Within the past month, the two have collaborated with others on campus to start a branch of the Exercise is Medicine at BYU to promote college fitness.

“Exercise is something that frankly is probably one of the most important things in medicine right now, because it can treat most diseases that are out there,” Nuttall says. “You exercise, your diabetes risk goes down. You exercise, your hypertension risk goes down. You exercise, your cancer risk goes down.”

With a PhD in nursing and a focus on physical activity and sedentary activity (sitting around), Peterson is well versed in student health affairs. He has noticed in his studies that college students spend a lot of time moving around, but then also spend a lot of time sitting around, especially with electronic devices.

“My concern then is once you get beyond the university atmosphere, when you get a real job, what’s the first thing that’s going to drop off? Probably the physical activity time and not the sedentary time, so I want to try to help find what’s motivating (to help people stay active even once they leave the student setting),” Peterson says.

Exercise is Medicine for college campuses comprises hosting physical fitness events (such as the Pokéthon), educating students, and working to promote measures that increase physical activity levels on campus. The program is still in its infancy, but the professors have managed to organize a leadership team which includes themselves, associate professor of Exercise Science James LeCheminant, and Peterson’s two research assistants. The team is now striving to meet requirements set by the ACSM.

“We’re working together to make our campus certified as an exercise medicine-friendly type of environment,” Nuttall says.

“It’s not necessarily about battling obesity per se,” Peterson says. “Unless you’re an Olympic athlete, everybody could be improving their physical activity.”

The plan right now is to organize more events like the Pokéthon and also to begin holding educational events to promote fitness awareness. Peterson is confident that the student body will be receptive.

“I think there are a lot of people interested in trying to improve their health and realize that maybe they sit too much or have too much screen time, so hopefully we will find a lot of people who are very interested in participating and advocating for us and helping to make this a success,” he says.

For students, Peterson and Nuttall say, improved fitness can have major benefits, including better sleep, increased test-taking ability, and deeper satisfaction with life.

“It doesn’t matter what the disease is, exercise can help it, either treating it or preventing it,” Nuttall says.

All students interested in the Pokéthon should visit the event website ( and register. The race will begin at 9 am with check-in starting at 8:30 am.

See related story on the event:

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