YOUR HEALTH MATTERS: Recent research on “Fitspiration” social media posts and psychological impact

Published: Apr. 11, 2022 at 3:02 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Recent research shows social media can play a positive role in helping people reach their health goals. Or, it can make people feel unmotivated to get fit when looking at unattainable goals.

The popular social media trend called “fitspiration” promotes fitness inspiration by showing examples of workout routines or healthy eating habits. A certified Green Bay personal trainer who has been helping people with their fitness for a decade said the posts can give concrete and creative advice when exercising.

“For me it’s mental clarity,” Kellen Skidmore, healthy living director and personal trainer at Greater Green Bay’s YMCA on the East-Side Y, said. “It is how I bring myself back to me. It’s how I ground myself in who I am. When I work out I love the feeling I get after I’m done working out when it’s successful. Or, if I have a bad day, I come and work out and feel 10x better.”

Skidmore came to the Greater Green Bay East Side YMCA as the healthy living director after spending four years at the downtown Green Bay location as a personal trainer. She has loved helping people reach their fitness goals safely and consistently.

Even taking 30 minutes out of your busy day to go and lift weights and exercise can help with your mental health and physical well-being, Skidmore emphasized. She also shared how much she enjoys looking at fitspiration social media posts for exercise advice. Yet, experts encourage viewing the content with caution.

“Many ‘fitspiration’ posts just show like posing and showing people being in great shape,” Volha Murashka, a PhD candidate at the University of Georgia’s Department of Communication Studies, emphasized. “That wouldn’t bring any informative value for people’s exercise intentions.”>

Murashka was one of the co-authors on the Health Communication research paper “Fitspiration on Instagram: Identifying Topic Clusters in User Comments to Posts with Objectification Features”. Researchers from the University of Georgia studied thousands of these fitspiration posts and found that despite often good intentions about a third of these images lead to objectification and actually distracted users from their health goals.

“The presence of objectification actually happens for both male and female accounts,” Yilang Peng, an assistant professor of financial planning, housing, and consumer economics at the University of Georgia, shared. Peng was also a co-author of “Fitspiration on Instagram”. “You can see that the percentage overall, very similar. I think the female accounts are slightly higher than the male accounts.”

“For people who are following them sometimes blindly they will only be able to see the outcomes,” assistant professor with the Department of Communication Studies, Jiaying Liu, emphasized. She was also a “Fitspiration on Instagram” co-author. “They also will probably only be able to see the outcomes after features and after photoshopped images. So, that will actually influence their self worth, their self perception and self-esteem.”

“They’re not going to post maybe the bad days that they have a workout or maybe the days when they don’t feel good about themselves,” Skidmore highlighted. “There is nothing wrong with that. They are a brand. They’re trying to sell the positivity that comes from working out but I think it’s remembering that they too are only human, and that you need to be easy on yourself.”

Fitness and social media experts recommend several tips for looking at fitspiration content in a healthy manner. First, think about exercise as a way to gain energy and confidence immediately after working out, not to attain a certain body type. Second, be selective about who you follow. Finally, find an exercise routine that you can actually stick to and is best for your fitness level or personal schedule.

Annie Krall is a former writer and producer for ABC NEWS New York City on the national medical and business units. Prior to that position, she was accepted to medical school her senior year at Northwestern University, after spending four years as a pre-medical student. However, Krall deferred her acceptance to pursue a Master in Health, Environment, and Science Journalism at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism.

Fitness videos intended to inspire others can have the opposite effect. Annie Krall discusses social media and "fitspiration"

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