How Tech and Social Media Make People Healthy

How Tech and Social Media Make People Healthy
By Jessica Oaks

 

There’s no one-to-one relationship between personal technology and health. No absolute rule that proves our physical, mental and emotional lives are measurably better with an iPhone or a Fitbit or a Facebook account. And no rule proving life would be better without them. Technology is simply a tool that can be used as easily for self-improvement as for entertainment.

 

 

Which isn’t to suggest that self-improvement is easy, even with everything from smartphones to social media at one’s disposal. Human beings are probably hardwired to fall off the wagon because the survival of our early ancestors, who were extremely social animals, depended on knowing their specific roles within the group and sticking to them. Change was disruptive to the social fabric. So it’s somewhat ironic that social media and other technology that helps us connect with like minded people can have the biggest positive impact when the goal is getting and staying healthy. That’s because having social support means you’re more likely to climb back on after a fall off the fitness wagon.

There are, of course, hundreds of devices and apps designed to encourage healthier living. With an app, you can find the nearest organic restaurant, farmers’ market or yoga studio. You can see the environmental impact of any product on the grocery store shelf to determine how it fits into your wellness philosophy. You can even access thousands of free workout routines at the tap of an icon. We live in a world where the things that help us stay healthy, from knowledge to gear, are readily available. In many cases, they’re absolutely free.

Access isn’t the problem, though. Accountability is.

Surveys show that people are more likely to stick to fitness goals and recover from stumbles when they feel accountable to someone. That someone might be friends and followers (virtual buddies on social apps like Fitocracy are just as effective as local workout partners) or even the ultimate virtual buddies, fitness trackers that automatically record every move we make. When people sync devices to wearable tech that monitors activity levels and duration of exercise, diet and sleep habits, and vital stats, apps can send out notifications cheering them on or gently reminding them that they’re not meeting goals.

Whether those users feel accountable to a person as they might when using Lift or a program that sends encouraging emails when it records lulls in physical activity levels, the result is the same. There’s added motivation to stick to an exercise routine or healthy diet. There’s a tendency to look at activity levels and calorie intake more realistically. And there’s less likelihood that a single slip-up will result in outright failure.

The only real downside of technology as a fitness tool is that it’s so ubiquitous already. A commitment to healthful moderation can go right out the window in the face of omnipresent apps and gadgets and our always-on social media habits. Over-monitoring can eventually take a toll on the body and the mind when people become addicted to statistics (e.g., steps per day or the number on the scale) and become disillusioned because progress isn’t linear. Or they can’t ever concentrate on the pleasures of eating or exercise without firing up their phones first.

To put it another way, if you’re more focused on your Fitbit than fitness, it’s time to step back and reevaluate your priorities. Chances are though, technology and social media will be just what you need to take your quest for a healthier you to the next level.

Jessica Oaks is a freelance journalist who loves to cover technology news and the ways that technology makes life easier. She also blogs at FreshlyTechy.com. Check her out on Twitter @TechyJessy.