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The Impact of Social Media on the Fitness Industry


“Fitspiration” is a social media sensation, but you should always proceed with caution.

The impact of social media on our daily lives can be seen just about everywhere we turn. From scrolling to selfies to posting, as an American society we spend countless hours a day perusing one social platform or another (or many). One significant area of our lives that social media has impacted – and grabbed this orthopedic surgeon's attention – is in the health and wellness space, especially regarding fitness. I am a firm and passionate believer in a focus on fitness over the entire lifespan. Athleticism isn't only for young people, and it doesn't have to end when you hit a certain age. Research shows that a commitment to health and wellness in your youth can translate to substantial health benefits and reduce the risk of various illnesses and chronic conditions as we age.

If you scroll through Instagram or Facebook these days, there's no shortage of posts from social "influencers" espousing the virtues of the socially-coined term "fitspiration (a mashup of the words fitness and inspiration)" as well as the hashtag #fitspo (fitness inspiration or fitspiration, further shortened). And as I browse the selection of content produced by these individuals, I have dueling thoughts on the matter. So, it is probably best, and most fair, to begin with, the upside of the "fitspo" social media craze.

Access – I know it's probably hard to imagine, but not even 20 years ago, if you wanted to seek ways to get fit you had two options. Your first option was to join a local gym, pay a monthly fee, and then find the motivation to drive there daily to exercise. Your second and decidedly more expensive (so, less accessible to most people) option was to privately hire a personal trainer to teach you how to exercise and eat right to help achieve your specific goals. Today, the concept of personal fitness has revolutionized from those decades-ago options, and social media has played a significant role. You can now follow trainers online who will show you moves (often for free) that require no more than your bodyweight to accomplish them. Talk about convenience! Removing the barriers of cost and travel time to meet your fitness goals is a massive game-changer for people who want to get fit, no matter their location or socioeconomic status.

Community Another historical roadblock to starting and maintaining a fit lifestyle is singularity. Humans are social creatures. So, starting down a fitness path alone can be daunting and discouraging. Today, social media serves to eliminate the solitude (virtually, at least) by helping individuals create and find communities of like-minded and goal-matched individuals who are on the same journey. Whether it's a virtual accountability partner to keep you motivated or a forum of people like you who are just starting and want to bounce ideas off of each other, social media can put a multitude of fitness communities at your fingertips.

Of course, for the significant upside that social media has brought to the fitness industry, it isn't without its downsides, which can be substantial, and in some cases, life-threatening.

Credentials – One of the most alarming aspects of the fitspiration social deluge is just how many individuals demonstrate exercises, peddle wellness products, or otherwise give advice who have zero credentials, education, or training that conveys they know what they're talking about. Just because someone looks good in an Instagram picture doesn't mean you should buy into, or believe, what they're selling. From dangerous supplements to fitness moves that someone just starting should never try, I have seen the detriment that such "influence" can bring. Exercise injuries are real. Poisoning and internal organ damage from dangerous products are actual. A deck of carefully curated images should not be the sole reason anyone takes fitness inspiration or advice from a stranger on the Internet.

Motivation – When starting on a fitness journey, it is crucial to "check" your motivation. Is your goal to achieve the healthiest YOU possible? Or is it to look like some (possibly) altered image of someone else on the Internet? If you're trying to be someone you're not, then your health journey is going to be a short one. Additionally, never attempt or overdo fitness moves because you feel pressured to meet a monthly challenge goal or other "competition." These are recipes for injury disaster. And finally, if your goal is to show others how good you look while exercising, I'm also throwing up a big caution sign here. Performing any move while simultaneously trying to get a great-angled shot of it is so dangerous and even life-threateningly so in some cases.

The fitness accessibility and potential for the like-minded community that can be created by social media are outstanding and to be applauded. But it comes with some personal responsibility and intrinsic motivation-checking to be ultimately successful in helping you achieve and maintain your fitness goals. The most significant variable in the equation is YOU. So, don't do it for the 'Gram, or strangers on the Internet. Do it only and, most importantly, for YOU.

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