How games and gamification can help you create healthy habits for physical activity at home

Guest post by Violeta Ivanova, BSc Physiotherapy at SAMK, Finland

Have you ever tried to build or change a lifestyle habit? It’s incredibly hard, takes a long time and dedication. This is not always taken into consideration when healthcare professionals recommend exercise to patients. Movement is healthy, but it doesn’t have to be limited to jogging, gym or the piece of paper with home exercise program that we, physical therapists love so much. Here are some tips on how to make regular activity part of your routine and what options are available for doing it at home, regardless of your current physical ability or disability.

How games can help you build an exercise habit

Games are great – they’re fun, engaging, highly motivating, social (if you choose to), adaptive, inclusive and incorporate very clever mechanics to keep you playing. They also help improve coordination, cognitive skills and resilience, which allows people to learn new tasks much faster and better cope with problems in daily life. Same as with exercise – there is something for everyone, you just have to experiment until you find the ones you enjoy doing.

Games can be stationary in which you play with mouse/keyboard or controller, or exergames – in which you have to move your body in order to progress. If you don’t have the space or hardware for exergames (Nintendo Switch, VR headset or Playstation Move for home, iWall for public), you can definitely use gamification techniques to combine exercises with your gaming hobby (e.g. do an exercise while you wait in matchmaking or for respawn, double your points if you win the game match afterwards or at the end of the level), more on which you’ll find below in the rewards section.

I’m going to share with you some exergames I enjoy, and hopefully that will motivate you to look for more options.

Nintendo Switch – if you have living room space, but don’t like VR experience.

Some of the games have assisted mode if you can’t do all of the movements due to disability or limited range of motion. You can try free demo of the games and see if it fits you before buying.

Ring Fit Adventurehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTwvfjFdf-Q

Fitness Boxinghttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5s46efcroQ0


Playstation 4 VR + Move and PC/Standalone VR headset

If you have the room space and VR experience, these games are available on wide variety of hardware options, depending on your budget. Some functionality and soundtrack differences apply from one version to another, as well as accessibility options. 

Beat Saberhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMPuf9kCRFo



Just Dance 2020https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9BrAT_o7yWA

Now that you have a few options to start, let’s talk about how to keep going with some simple steps to make habits stick.

Influencing your environment, visual cues and reward through gamification.

In preparation, you can first evaluate your surroundings.  

  • What available space you have, and can you arrange things differently to accommodate for the required area?
  • Do you need additional items like an exercise mat or indoor shoes for safety?
  • Do you share the space with others, and do you have to put your tools away after each session?

Taking all of this into consideration can help with the next step of creating visual reminders within your environment.  

  • Alarm on your phone prompting you to do the activity
  • Having your workout area ready or the tools in a spot nearby
  • App for habit tracking (Habitica, Daylio, Beeminder, Apple Health, Samsung Health, etc.)
  • Piece of paper next to the area of exercise where you mark your progress. You can mark with X, add workout minutes, or give yourself points.  

Figure out a reward meaningful to you. Forget about “cheat days” or sugary calories that your brain already craves for. Instead, make it small and playful – like give yourself a “level up” or upper rank after a completed full week, just a sticker or 1h longer sleep on an off-day. Experiment with rewards and what gives you the most joy after completion, you don’t have to stick to a routine. Note that this is If you opt for a paper-based tracking, you can also find more options and creative ideas in Victoria Ichizli-Bartels’s book “The Self Gamification Happiness Formula”.

Feel free to connect and share your experience and gamification strategies for maintaining activity. Stay Healthy!


  1. What is Exergaming https://www.exergamefitness.com/solutions/what-is-exergaming/
  2. iWall interactive exercise https://iwall.fitness/exergaming
  3. Nintendo Switch Ring Fit Adventure https://www.nintendo.com/games/detail/ring-fit-adventure-switch/
  4. Nintendo Switch Fitness Boxing https://www.nintendo.com/games/detail/fitness-boxing-switch/
  5. Nintendo Switch Arms https://www.nintendo.com/games/detail/arms-switch/
  6. Just Dance 2020 https://www.ubisoft.com/en-us/game/just-dance-2020/
  7. Beat Saber https://beatsaber.com/
  8. Audica https://store.playstation.com/en-us/product/UP8802-CUSA17685_00-AUDICAPS40000000
  9. Habit New Year! Why Most New Year’s Resolutions Fail & How to Make Your Healthy Habits Stick This Time written by Eleonoora Hintsa, Performance Coach at Hinsta Performance (Posted December 19, 2019, referred April 20, 2020) https://www.hintsa.com/habit-new-year-why-most-new-years-resolutions-fail-and-how-to-make-your-healthy-habits-stick/
  10. Matt D’Avella 3 ways to make your habits stick – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1TSpcnNtEs&t=
  11. Habitica App – Gamify your tasks https://habitica.com/static/home
  12. Daylio App for mood, diary and habit tracking https://daylio.webflow.io/
  13. Beeminder App for tracking habits https://www.beeminder.com/
  14. Should you have Cheat meals or Cheat days by Written by Ansley Hill, RD, LD on September 13, 2018  https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/cheat-meals
  15. The Self-gamification Happiness Formula by Dr. Victoria Ichizli-Bartels https://www.amazon.com/Self-Gamification-Happiness-Formula-Turn-Games-ebook/dp/B07SV46VPP