Consider Social Media's Impact

The folks at Greatist bring the latest in scientifically-backed health information to the masses via their website, Twitter, Instagram, podcasts, Facebook, YouTube, and Pinterest... and MORE! (Believe it or not..)  It may seem like a lot, but I--and many others--also have just as many outlets for sharing information and ideas.

This month, they asked the Greatist Ambassadors:

How does social media influence your health and fitness?

Well... well.  A zillion thoughts raced through my mind when this came up.  I'll try to touch on all aspects, highlighting the ones I find most influential.


First: What social media?  The most popular outlets for all genres are those listed above.  These may be used by celebrities, bloggers, and also those without a large public persona, just as a way to connect with friends.  These include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, and the slowly growing Google Plus (PS: You can find me on ALL of these! See my contact page).  These can largely be accessed via a web browser, but also on mobile devices like your smartphone or tablet.  It's the mobile access that can make these so addicting!

There are also assorted communities specifically targeting health and wellness, such as these workout and meal trackers: DailyMile, Lift, LoseIt, MyFitnessPal, SparkPeople, SoWorkout.  These, too, can go with you anywhere.  Go for a run?  Record your mileage and time.  Eat lunch? Enter in the ingredients to see your caloric and nutrition consumption for the day or week.  Do an impressive plank?  Make note of the time so you can increase it next time.  Some of these also allow for group challenges, discussed below.

Social Media's Impact
As I reflected on all the benefits of social media on users' health and fitness endeavors in general, I found that each "pro" was coupled with a "con," or at least a caveat.

The Good: Accountability.  If you're logging workouts or meals, you may feel more pressure to make the better choice.  You may want to run just a little further or a little faster.  Along these lines, many websites and blogs are popping up with all sorts of group challenges (plank a day! 30 min of bodyweight movement! yoga 3x per week! eat 5 vegetables daily! walk 10,000 steps! prepare one meal at home!).  If you commit and follow through, you're eligible not only for glory among your internet peers, but also to win prizes!  I've participated in a few, and it's definitely motivated me to move every day, prepare my own meals, and try new things.  The group support is also incredibly powerful; others with similar goals are very motivating and that can help keep people going strong.

The Flipside: Addiction/Too Many.  First, people may become overly careful with what they do because they're posting it every single time. Whatever purpose you use social media for, addiction is a possibility.  The problem is that it's always there, and it's always changing. Others are constantly posting things, so you've got to check and keep up to date, sharing and liking what others post. Further, you've got to keep posting your own so people don't forget about you!  If you look away for just a second, you might miss something!  Even as I write this post, I'm distracted by the constant flow of information from Twitter and the fun photos in my Instagram feed.

Second, there are simply too many.  My greatest struggle with social media is that there are simply too many outlets.  Some are beginning to allow synching between two media, but for the most part, there are too many separate pages to keep up with.  If I want to post a workout, I usually do so via DailyMile.  This does allow me to send the details straight to Twitter, which is nice, but when I participated in Greatist's DIY Health Challenge, I had to also check in on Social Workout.  It becomes quite tedious; I wish they'd work together more seamlessly. Someday...

The Good: Inspiration. Motivation.  This goes hand in hand with the community aspect mentioned above.  It's inspiring to watch people achieve great things (whether it's Krysten overcoming her DNA to take on marathons and triathalons, Amber working toward her fiercely fit body, or Alan continuously shedding some serious weight, always with a smile), and watching them achieve their goals can motivate you to go further.

The Flipside: Misinformation.  For every positive, healthy message out there, there's also a false claim or too "perfect" body. "Just do this simple routine and you'll look like this instantly!" is not true.  Further, people may critique one another, and not always in a constructive way.  Just as with everything else on the internet, be careful.

The Good: So many streams of information. For those who want to make healthy changes, whether it's starting to work out for the first time, beginning to floss, or learning how to buy and cook vegetables, the internet is a great source of information.  It's no longer a great challenge to start something new; there are websites, blog posts, videos, and tweets that can help you learn how.  Further, you can contact experts directly.  Read a book and have a question?  Tweet at the author.  Post on his or her Facebook wall.  No big deal!  Worst that happens is that they don't respond, but so many wellness pros are actively engaging with fans online.  Whenever you're confused about something or how to implement their advice, go ahead and ask. Direct access to the experts is a big advantage to social media!

The Flipside: too much conflicting information.  Using the internet, as always, requires an extremely skeptical eye. It can be dangerous for a newbie in ANY field to simply do a search, read an article, and blindly accept it as truth. It's important to find the credentials for the author, look at the research for yourself, and scrutinize other articles for comparison.  This doesn't just mean for things that are blatantly questionable; even the experts in a field may be at odds with one another (for example, ideal nutrition is being hotly debated right now), so you must really dig in to the information and science for yourself to see what resonates as true with you.


(Sidenote: these last two points explain the reason I love Greatist so much.  The website is a wealth of information on SO many aspects of health and fitness; whatever you're looking for, they're on it.  Further, they generally do not take sides.  The writers are very skilled at condensing the research, making observations and sharing expert opinions, and letting you decide for yourself.  It's hard to find such unbiased sources, but Greatist has achieved this, and for that reason, I trust it.)


Phew!  Those are my general observations. 

What about me, as the question asks? 

At worst: It has made me more wired, always connected. I hadn't realized that starting a blog would result in all these networks and spaces for sharing. It's a constant source of procrastination, as the online health world is far from being my primary job. For something that began as a hobby, it has begun to take up far more time and attention than I could have predicted.  It's good, because I enjoy it, but it's bad because, well, I want to have a real life outside of my tweets.

At best: The pros far outweigh the cons...

  • I have made friends.  I have met some amazing people, both online and in person.  I have made friends and shared experiences.  I have gotten to know brands and experts better, and am thankful for all the opportunities that have been given to me as a result of connections made via social media. 
  • I have learned.  I've clicked from link to link, tweet to tweet, devouring research papers and expert opinion. I've learned from others' experiences and taken on dares from other bloggers.  I have changed the way I eat and move, and also the way I treat my body through other lifestyle factors, like sleep and stress.  I am far more knowledgeable about how to take care of myself.
  • I have dared.  
    • I've dared myself to go further.  This much falls under the accountability mentioned above: "If I run for four more minutes, I can log this as a full three miles." "If I speed it up just a drop, I can log it as under 10 minutes." "If I try out this new recipe, I can share it with everyone else, too." "If I survive this crazy new workout, I can blog about it!"  There's also the inspiration I've gained from following others on their own journeys.
    • I've dared others to try new things.  A tweet, an email, a blog comment telling me that someone tried something new, because I dared them to... nothing makes me happier!  It's wild that some of my friends, family, and--thanks to social media--strangers halfway across the country or globe have made positive changes to improve their health because of something I wrote.  THAT is why I started Dare You To, and that's what keeps me going.
    • I've been dared!  I've been dared by friends, when they know I can't say no. I've been dared by followers and fellow bloggers to try out some new workout, food, activity, etc., that they have fallen for.  I've also been dared by BRANDS to take on new challenges and live with fire.  Thanks to all those who have dared me right back, forcing me out of my comfort zone, too!  


SO! That's just my take. There are good sides and bad sides, but OVERALL, I believe that participating in social media has greatly improved my health and fitness.  Inspiration and information go a long way!

Remember: You can keep up with me on all these social media! Check out Twitter for sharing articles, research, and motivation; Instagram for daily photos of food, fitness, and fun; Pinterest for everything--information, inspiration; and YouTube for the occasional event recap!

Now, I want to know...
  • What social media do you use, and for what purposes?  
  • Do you ever find it takes up a bit too much time and energy?
  • How has it influenced YOUR health and fitness?

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