The internet has made information widely accessible, and in recent years, social media has been the great enabler of this information age. In the past, you had to do research; find the right search terms, bookmark news sites, and learn the skill of effectively surfing the web.
Today, all of that information is passively delivered to you. Friends share everything that’s trending. We follow brands and influencers, giving them some control over what shows up on our screens.
This can be a problem when it comes to fitness advice. Our society perceives healthy living and physical fitness as markers of high status. You probably know someone whose social media feed includes workout and diet tips, accompanied by pictures showing off their toned bodies.
Yet unless you took a health-coach training course, you’re probably not the best source of advice in this department. Here’s why everyone should be careful about handing out fitness tips and how you can do better moving forward.
Credibility and misinformation
Fitness advice is everywhere, but the internet is home to both good and bad sources. Journalists write some content with an ethos based on objectivity. But other posts and articles are published with the intent to promote specific products or services.
Many writers will be upfront when it comes to such promotional content. They will preface their writing with disclaimers so that readers have the right expectations. Yet again, not all sources adhere to such practices.
Online sources run a broad spectrum in terms of credibility. Even if you think you’re pretty adept at fact-checking sources, it’s a much less common practice than many people assume. UNESCO also lists it as an essential 21st-century skill.
Fact-checking takes time and effort. If you find yourself sharing information without doing that, there’s a chance you might be spreading bias, sensationalism, or outright misinformation. And when that information pertains to fitness, people who act upon it could quickly end up compromising their quality of living.
Different factors are involved
But what harm could it do to share supposedly helpful links and promote someone else’s products and services? Many people often underestimate the high degree of variance across the individual factors, or determinants, that affect our fitness, health, and well-being.
Our overall state of being is influenced by determinants, which can be grouped into the major categories of personal, environmental, healthcare, social, and lifestyle. Across these different determinants are some we can control, and others we can’t. The latter include such factors as heredity, age, sex, and disability. In the former group, some factors are entirely under your control, such as daily nutrition, sleep levels, and fitness habits; others allow only partial control, such as neighborhood environmental quality.
It seems like a lot of information to process, and that’s the point. How can you possibly account for all the different determinants when dishing out fitness advice, online or in person, to people whom you might influence? You might find some tips sensible, but for others, they are a waste of time. In some cases, such as following fad diets, the unwary might even be doing themselves harm.
Examining personal reasons
We also tend to assume that people giving advice are inherently helpful. Somehow, they have to be motivated mainly by the desire to improve others. Yet psychological studies show that’s not the entire truth. Even with altruistic motives at heart, it has been shown that people feel an increased sense of power and status when giving advice. Since status is a zero-sum game, it follows that the person receiving advice will feel a little diminished.
Revisit the reasons why you want to share fitness-related information. How effectively did you communicate your message? Instead of inspiring them to change their diet or commit to working out regularly, could you have made the other person feel less competent or empowered?
Leading by example
If you genuinely want to help other people make fitness improvements, then take a page out of every great leader’s playbook. Leading by example is the best way to convince others to follow.
When you post about your fitness improvements, make sure to stick to what you know to be true. This can be sources you’ve rigorously fact-checked, or practices and products you’ve actually tried and tested personally.
Still, understand that everyone’s different. What worked for you might not be as effective for others. Take the opportunity to shed some light on other determinants. Working on these factors might prove to be the key that unlocks improvement in other people’s lives.