Doctors in Hong Kong say the safest place to exercise during the coronavirus pandemic is at home, but finding the motivation to train can be hard.
Turning to social media for encouragement could be the best solution, because it helps people feel positive and enjoy their training more, according to new research published in Frontiers in Psychology.
When exercising gets tough, finding something or someone that helps us get over that motivational hump can be just what we need, say researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). They recruited 500 people at different training levels to take part in a study on Instagram. Each participant was asked how motivated they were to exercise and how much they enjoyed their training, before they were randomly split into two groups.
One group followed an Instagram account called #dinmotivation while the others did not. The researchers posted motivational posts every three days over four weeks. The posts were based on self-determination and passion theory, meaning they were designed to give people a sense of belonging, mastery and autonomy.
“A lot of emotions can come up when you exercise, no matter what level you’re at. We tried to make participants aware of their own motivation to exercise, and to increase their awareness of why they were training,” said Professor Frode Stenseng from NTNU’s Department of Education and Lifelong Learning.
At the end of the four weeks, the participants were asked again about their exercise motivation and enjoyment. People in both groups were equally prepared to exercise, but they differed in how much they enjoyed their training.
“Participants who followed the account postings developed more positive feelings related to their training. The other participants didn’t,” said Stenseng.
Following the postings involved spending no more than a few minutes per month on Instagram, but those people reported enjoying their exercise much more than the ones who had not.
Research to date has focused on the negative impact of social media, but this study throws light on the positive influence it can have on promoting public health. The researchers recommend taking a scientific approach to ensure effective messages are sent.
“Today’s influencers are undoubtedly having a great impact, and this was part of the reason for conducting our study,” said lead researcher and clinical psychologist Silje Berg. “We want to show how the influence of social media can be positive and used to promote public health – rather than the opposite,” she added.
The researchers conclude that social media can be a valuable and inexpensive means of reaching people with positive messages about exercise and health – if it’s done right.
“Several platforms are having a big impact. It’s interesting how some exercise apps promise exercise enjoyment and motivation without having any clear theories for how they want to achieve that. Now our study has shown that theoretical content can have a positive effect, so we should encourage more people in this market to become knowledge-based,” said Berg.