There are several big changes when it comes to modern-day living versus life several decades ago. Perhaps the biggest one is the introduction of social media technology and its total infiltration into our society. One facet of our lives that has been especially influenced by social media is our health and fitness. “From pictures of perfect physiques to the latest detox craze, there’s hardly a shortage of information on how to improve ourselves,” explains Roger E. Adams, PhD, Houston-based dietitian, nutritionist, and founder of Eat Right Fitness. But, social media’s impact on our wellness is by no means all negative. In fact, it’s introduced a myriad of new ways to take better care of our body, mind, and soul. Here, we chatted with experts in technology and wellness to learn the ways in which social media has changed the world of health and fitness.
After a long, hard day at work, it can be difficult to drag yourself to the gym. This is especially true when it’s cold or wet outside. But, when you’re scrolling through your feed and seeing other people exercising, you’re more motivated to get to it! “When we realize that our friends and family are exercising ‘no matter what’ and are excited about their results, it has a stronger impact than any commercial on TV or through the mail,” says Andrew Selepak, Ph.D., director of MAMC Social Media within the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida. “The Greeks called this Ethos. [It] can be a motivating factor when we see people we know and care about doing it.”
Just as seeing friends and family pursuing their health and fitness goals on social media can be motivating. However, it can also be intimidating. “Some of us just weren’t built to have six-pack abs. Whether it’s our physical stature, lack of time to achieve it, or love of donuts,” explains Dr. Selepak. “So, sometimes, when we know we can’t do something, it can prevent us from trying.” In addition, not all of the images we’re seeing on social media, especially the ones on celebrity accounts, are real. Many are photoshopped and edited by highly trained specialists. “We can’t all defeat the evil enemy of donuts. And [we] certainly can’t compete with Photoshopped abs, which might prevent us from trying,” he adds.
If you’re looking for a workout or exercise inspiration, you can find it on nearly every social media platform. Even while you’re scrolling through your feed during your commute, you’re inundated with information on ways to improve your physical wellness. “I remember the days when learning new workouts or getting healthier recipes meant buying a health, fitness, or lifestyle magazine,” says Jonathan Bennett, Columbus, Ohio-based certified counselor and founder of Double Trust Dating. “Now, with Pinterest and other social media apps, you have countless options to craft the perfect health and fitness regimen, just for you.”
Instagram Fitness Models
Physically fit people have always walked among us. But, we weren’t exposed to seeing their ripped and toned bodies every few hours (or minutes!) like we are now. “In our society today, fitness models on Instagram with a large enough following can get sponsors and endorsement deals. [They can] turn their interest into an actual career by working with health food companies, gyms, and fitness equipment companies,” explains Dr. Selepak. This is not always a bad thing, however. Some fitness people on Instagram are looking to become a paid trainer. Some are simply willing to answer questions and offer advice to those struggling with their fitness experience, he adds.
Dr. Adams explains that the ability for social media posts and videos to go viral has led to a huge influx of poor health and nutrition information spreading quickly across the globe. “Unsafe detoxes, bizarre diets (see tapeworm diet), and even unsafe workouts, can quickly spread on social media. [They can] poorly influence those just looking to live a healthier lifestyle,” he says. Additionally, the ability for information to spread so quickly has enhanced the dissemination of unrealistic expectations. In his practice, he has seen a drastic increase of unrealistic body image issues. “Young men think they have to have chiseled abs, a hulking chest and extremely tapered waistlines to look perfect and be healthy. While young women may interpret healthy bodies on social media that are actually quite underweight,” he explains. “This can lead to disordered eating habits, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and depression.”
Establishing a workout and diet regimen after years of living a sedentary lifestyle is intimidating and scary. It can also be lonely. That’s where online support groups for health and fitness really come in handy. Letting others know that we’re on a journey that’s not easy can garner support from the masses and turn into a motivating factor that leads to success. “Sometimes we just need a few Facebook likes to keep going back to the gym,” says Dr. Selepak. “These individuals are not showing off their new body after two visits to the gym. Rather, they are looking for positive support and reinforcement from friends and family to keep going back.” Exhibit A: Aaptiv’s supportive community on Facebook.