Tuesday, June 4, 2013

How Social Media Influences Your Health and Fitness

Truth: For the longest time, I fought the whole Facebook thing. I thought it was stupid. I thought it was a waste of time. I'm traditional in the sense that I'd rather just keep in touch like old times via phone, letter or whatever. But now, I'm all over Facebook. Mostly for fitness purposes. In fact, I'm not sure I'd even have a Facebook page if it weren't for A Daily Dose of Fit. I understood the value of getting my blog on the social networking site, but I couldn't do that until I, myself was on Facebook.

So I'm on Facebook, but truth be told: I don't use it that much. At least not in the traditional sense. I don't post any pictures of my daughter on it. I rarely post pictures of myself on it. Status updates? Few and far in between. But, geeze...I'm on Facebook every day. No, not to stalk people. To keep track of my peers in the health and fitness world.

The groups I belong to on Facebook, the companies I follow that directly relate to my industry...not only do they keep me informed, they inspire me to be my best in every area of my health and fitness. I'm certain it would be much harder to keep track of them if I didn't have Facebook.

That's mostly why I love Facebook. It' channels the best of news, views and product reviews that pertain to my interests and puts them all into one feed that fosters interaction as I see fit.

Facebook = Social Media = A big influence on your health and fitness.

For example, I'm three weeks out from running the Chicago Women's Half Marathon. Today, they posted an image of the medals they'll be handing out to all of the finishers.

Instant inspiration, no? Let's be honest, a small part of me loves to run races to rack up the bling, but when I find out the medal is extra-awesome, it makes me want to really, truly earn it. Without Facebook, I might not have seen the medal until I crossed the finish line. Now, I have an image that I'll carry with me from here on out. And I can read comments from other women who are in my very same position which excites me to run a race alongside all of them.

But let's be honest, social media can have a negative impact on your health and fitness, too. From too-thin girls posting photos on Instagram to healthy living bloggers posting daily meal recaps, it's easy to fall into the comparison trap. I do it, and I always have to remind myself that I am not them. That I am unique and completely my own. So let's really dive in and look at four good and/or bad ways social media can influence your health and fitness:

1) Social media is an endless stream of inspiration
Participating in Twitter chats and joining special groups on Facebook gives you access to like minded people. Updates from other runners can inspire you to push harder, and links to races can inform you of events you may never have known about. Blogs in your Feedly line up post after post of personal experiences that semi-relate to you and your life. After all, you wouldn't follow them if they didn't, right? These people, their information and experiences, make you want to be your very best. To do your very best. They make you want to participate. And for some, deciding to participate in any type of fitness activity is challenge #1.

2) Social media can trap you in a sea of self-criticism. It's so easy to compare. It's so easy to look in the mirror and tell yourself that you aren't good enough, or to look in a magazine and decide you'll never be that pretty or that skinny. Images traveling throughout social media can do that to you, too. Instagram, for example, puts an endless stream of ab shots and flexed muscles, race medals and plank times right in your face for self-comparison. And consequently, self-criticism. Whenever you engage in social media environments, remind yourself: THESE PEOPLE ARE NOT ME. It's okay if I don't match them perfectly. Be sure to follow only those that really, truly tell you an awesome story...good abs or not.

3) Social media links to tools and technology that make it easy to keep track of your health and fitness. From MapMyRun to MyFitnessPal and countless other social applications, you can connect yourself one step further to those that do as you do—or not! Keep yourself quiet on these platforms and use them to keep track of your own progression. They can be really great for that. But if you engage on a social level, the inspiration is yours for the taking. A recent CNN article quotes that "social features on fitness devices play three roles: They motivate people; the various interactions act as triggers for action; and sharing information and tips can increase ability."

4) Social media gives a voice to anyone, so you have to be weary of misinformation. Give a girl a blog and she's suddenly a personal trainer, pumping out workouts that promise "shape-up" results or "burner" sensations in target muscle groups. In health forums where people can chat about medical issues, anyone can provide an answer that's "right" above all others. So be really careful about the information you absorb. Pick and choose your sources wisely. For example, when I give you workouts to try or fitness advice to consider, it comes backed by my experience as a certified personal trainer. But when I dish out diet advice, though it stems from research and personal experience, it's not backed by any sort of certification—I always disclose this to you, encouraging you to do what's right and/or best for you. Some people don't. And that's not right.

Now, I try to keep it real on each of my social media channels. If you'd like to follow along, please do! I welcome you with open arms to my Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest accounts.

Question: What is your relationship with social media? How many times a day are you engaged? What is your favorite platform? Why?

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