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How to Tell Which Social Media Influencers Have Healthy Advice for Diet and Exercise

CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center trainers break down the truth behind social media fitness trends

minute read

Written by Laura Kelley on June 25, 2024

As summer gets into full swing, Coloradans are looking to up their fitness game and hit the great outdoors. Social media is flooded with fitness “experts” promising to increase your strength and endurance through diet and exercise. But how can you tell which influencers are the real deal and which ones are simply looking to cash in on a trend?

Below, Laura Kelley, media relations professional in the CU Anschutz Office of Communications, speaks to Lauren Heap, personal training manager at the CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, and personal trainer Jared Laxner about how to identify the good, the bad and the ugly fitness advice coming from social media platforms.

Q&A Header

Social media has become the “go to” place for many people looking for fitness advice, trends and workout plans. Influencers around the world are dispensing advice to millions of followers hoping to up their exercise game. What are some of the positives and negatives when turning to social media for this information?

Positives: There are influencers that are true professionals in their craft with university degrees, licenses and/or certifications in the fitness and nutrition realm that provide science-backed knowledge and tips. Various fitness influencers can be fun and engaging that help influence others to begin the fitness process. They may interact with comments and direct messages which helps create a personal aspect for those who are shy or scared to start the fitness journey.

Negatives: The risk of false information is great. Many influencers are greedy for money and quick sales and will post “fancy gimmick words” to lure people into what could be a cheap and wasteful “workout plan”. Some influencers in the fitness realm that aren’t registered dieticians will still try to sell “meal plans” when they are not legally allowed to do that. In most cases, only physicians and registered dieticians can legally prescribe a set meal plan. Many influencers try to do creative or fancy exercise demos on their social media to grab attention and say that everyone should do this exercise. Many times, the influencer is at an advanced level and others may get hurt trying to replicate the viral video/demonstrations.

We see so many influencers claiming to be “fitness or wellness coaches” as we scroll through our feeds. How can someone tell if an influencer is really certified to give out advice when it comes to our health?

Research their profile and look them up further and see if they have official university degrees in their field. Licenses and certifications in the field of work are very important to further enhance their credibility. Be aware of certification requirements and do research on any licenses/certifications that you’ve never heard of. Verify if the certifying body has strict education and requirements to verify the science behind what the influencer may be claiming. Nowadays, with the vast internet, there are many random nutrition certificates and fitness certificates that don’t nearly provide the scientific background required to teach/coach others properly. Yet, influencers use those certificates to justify the information they put out because they are backed by a potential illegitimate certification.

Are there any specific “red flag” words to look for that would tell us that a post contains misinformation?

Avoid posts claiming that the video/post demonstrates the “only” way to do something. Many influencers reel people in with quick “one-size-fits-all” tactics for quick sales. So, be diligent and research what they are claiming. Anytime a post has large, outlandish marketing, such as “lose 30 pounds in three weeks” and “get ripped and toned,” it’s usually a marketing scam to lure people in with enticing words. Losing 30 pounds in three weeks is unrealistic and would be incredibly detrimental to the body in that short amount of time. If a post or video from an influencer doesn’t explain any scientific or evidence-based reasons for their claims, then it is usually just hearsay and marketing ploy to gain followers and/or customers.

As fitness professionals, what is some of the most concerning fitness advice you’ve seen trending on social media?

There are always various challenges out there such as the “75 Hard Challenge.” This challenge is 75 days in a row of doing two 45-minute workouts each day, following a specific diet of choice with no alcohol or “cheat meals”, and drinking a gallon of water a day. So, while the consistent hydration is a good thing, the overall strictness of 75 days in a row may be good in the short term, but it is not a normal sustainable life balance so people may struggle to maintain proper rest which can lead to detrimental effects on mental and physical health.  It is more sustainable to develop a habit of three or four exercise days per week with focus on proper sleep, hydration and nourishing foods. Restricting things or placing a “bad” label can create a negative stigma that makes it harder to be consistent.

What is important to remember if people do plan to follow some of these workouts even if they do come from real professionals?

Always start with light weights the first week of a plan so you can practice the movements. Make notes if any of the moves cause pain and don’t force doing them. If you are newer to working out and the workout plan is four-plus days a week, a good recommendation is to divide the first week up into two weeks. This way you can give the body time to react to the new stimulus and heal over a few days before the next workout. You need to build up the stamina and work capacity to handle four-plus days a week. Don’t suddenly increase workouts in a week and have major soreness. Early on when getting into a workout routine, you don’t want to be deterred by too much fatigue and soreness. Take rest days and get proper sleep to develop those recovery habits that will allow you to train consistently for the rest of your life.

Do you have any fitness tips for people about how to tackle summer workouts without overextending themselves and possibly ending up injured? In Colorado especially, we seem to push things to the limits during the summer months because there are so many outdoor activities we like being a part of.

Look at your weekly schedule and compare your strenuous activities in comparison to how much quality recovery you can get. Recovery is good nutrition, sleep and hydration. If you are consistently exercising strenuously and not sleeping well, it can greatly increase the risk of injury or illness as the body will always be in a fatigued state. As fitness professionals we highly advise getting a proper warmup in before exercising, sports or other activities. Hiking, biking and climbing are big in Colorado, so although it may seem weird to warm up in a parking lot, it is very beneficial to performance and injury prevention to get the body primed for activity. For example, doing a circuit of two to four exercises that get the heart rate up, muscles warm and brain focused is a great way to minimize injury and feel better doing your activity. For example, a hiking warmup might consist of three rounds of 20 bodyweight squats, 10 lunges/leg (walking or reverse lunges) and 30 jumping jacks with some rest between rounds. This will prep the body and warm up the legs, core and increase the heart rate to be ready for the demand of powering up the incline of a trail.

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Staff Mention

Lauren Heap

Staff Mention

Jared Laxner