Research Finds Health Influencer Followers Could Endure Decrease Moods

Social media has changed the way that many of us approach health and fitness, but with Instagram now boasting more than two billion active users around the world, what we know about the effects that fitness influencers have on our lives is still in its infancy. A recent study has sought to shed new light on the subject however, and it appears that there’s both good and bad news: Fitness influencer followers are likely to exercise more often than those who don’t, but it could lead to poorer mental health.

To determine the effects of our relationship with fitness, with or without exposure to fitness influencers, a recent survey drew answers from more than a thousand young adults aged between 18 and 35 years of age. The report published in the Cyberpsycology Journal found that fitness influencer followers were more likely to undertake higher amounts of vigorous exercise and eat more fruits and vegetables. While that’s great news for social media stars, there was a flipside. The results also showed that those who followed food or diet related influencers were more likely to suffer higher distress levels such as anxiety or negative moods.


Are Social Media Influencers Bad For Our Mental Health?

Before we throw fitness influencers out with the bath water, it is important to put these results into context. Past studies have shown that a large percentage (32%) of those that follow social media influencers were able to take the positive messaging and use it as motivation to make healthy lifestyle changes, but the effect that an influencer has will depend on their individual posts, and the different personalities that consume them. That said, influencers do have the potential to damage their followers mental health through unrealistic promotion of the “fit ideal” — leading viewers to feel insecure and unhappy about their own progress or appearance.

Then there’s the use of social media itself as a potential means of damaging mental health. Whether we follow fitness influencers or not, increased scrolling time is associated with anxiety and depression, and if you pair this with “fitspiration posts” and a poor self-image, it becomes clear why fitness influencers can have a negative impact whether they intended to or not. In the study, those who didn’t follow fitness influencers but still undertook vigorous exercise reported better mental health. “Compulsive exercise and appearance-related motivations to exercise and eat well could serve to disrupt the typical positive relationship between healthy behaviours and mental health,” suggested the report. “Among followers, greater engagement in health behaviours may not correlate with better mental health, whereas among non-followers, greater engagement in health behaviours may correlate with better mental health, as is normally the case. However, research has not yet tested whether following health influencers acts as a moderator of the relationship between healthy behaviours and mental health.”

Fitness influencers aren’t going anywhere just yet, and millions of people have become healthier thanks to the knowledge and inspiration of countless legitimate coaches and fitness pro’s, but perhaps you should check-in with yourself to make sure that the virtual relationship you have with your influencer of choice is a positive one, and if not, it could be time to follow someone else, or take some time away from an app.

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