Social media allows us to communicate with people all over the world, but did you know that it could also help you maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle? Heart Health Dietitian Tracy Parker explains.
Social media is often criticised for being bad for our health. It’s blamed for making people less active and feel more isolated. There are also concerns about safety and the accuracy of much information online – and it’s certainly worth remembering that not everything you see is safe or even accurate. But new technologies can also help us learn new things, connect with others and provide motivation.
So, should you tweet a healthy treat, pin to stay slim or use the inspiration of an Instagram to make a healthy meal? If you are spending a lot of time online, why not use some of that time in ways that can to reap health benefits. Here are eight ways you can harness the power of technology to support your healthy habits.
1. Create a pin board
Pin boarding is like having a virtual cork board where you can collect, organise and share all your favourite digital content. Pinterest is one of the most popular virtual pin boards. You can use it to search for healthy recipes or workout inspiration and then create your own boards. Based on your searches, new ideas will also be sent straight to your inbox, saving time and keeping you inspired. You might even decide that your virtual recipe box can replace your collection of faded or food-stained recipes.
2. Make the most of your Facebook account
Social support is a huge factor when it comes to making healthy changes. Facebook groups can open up a new social world where you can find like-minded people to get support from. You can search for groups based on specific interests, such as running, weight loss, and heart health, or even by the area where you live. You could even start your own group on Facebook.
Or you can just use your existing network of Facebook friends to give you encouragement on your healthy journey. Make it work for you by posting on your face book page frequently – share favourite recipes, post regular links to health tips that have worked or not for you, link to articles of interest or even complain about how your workout was that day.
Publicly sharing your goal and progress is more likely to keep you going. And getting praise through “likes” may also help you stay motivated.
- If you are looking for some inspiration to get fit, take a look at the BHF Facebook events page – an opportunity to get fit and raise money at the same time
What is social media?
It’s worth remembering that social media is a broad term which covers many different tools. Generally speaking the term ‘social media’ covers all the following when they’re carried out online
- social and professional networking (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn)
- media sharing (Instagram, Youtube, Flickr) and
- content production (blogging)
3. Become a blogger or vlogger
If you like to write and enjoy interacting with others, then becoming a blogger may be something to try. Unlike journaling, which keeps your thoughts private, a blog is an online journal where your stories can be shared with others over weeks, months or years. You can also take blogging to the next stage by becoming a video blogger or ‘vlogger’ and tell your story through video.
Whether you are trying to lose weight, learning to swim or teaching yourself to how to cook, blogging can be a great way to express your thoughts, challenges or lessons learned. You will also benefit from feedback, ideas, and support accountability from your readers or viewers.
Free blogging platforms include Blogger and WordPress. Once you’ve started, make sure you tell your friends, and spread the word online so that you get some readers.
4. Take to Twitter
Twitter is a ‘real time’ site where you can post or tweet information as it happens. It is limited to 140-character comments, so you do need to make it punchy – though you can share pictures and short videos too.
Like Facebook, Twitter works best if you’re active. Tweet about the healthy breakfast you just ate, a new workout you’ve tried, or a healthy recipe you’ve just made. Interact with other tweeters too, congratulate them on their successes or comment on their tweets. It is a great way to build up your following which can also help keep you motivated. But if you don’t fancy tweeting, you can still be inspired by just following people who tweet about healthy eating or other subjects you’re interested in.
- Follow @TheBHF on Twitter for the latest from the BHF
5. Be inspired by images
Instagram is an online app you can use to share photos and short videos taken with your smart phone or tablet. It is a great way for you to share your own healthy meals or look at other people’s ideas. If you are trying to lose weight using Instagram could also be a nice way to track your progress beyond the scale as you begin to see yourself transform in the pictures you are sharing.
Check out the BHF Instagram page, @the_bhf, which has lots of images of healthy recipes plus some of the delicious recipes in Pippa Middleton’s new book, ‘Heartfelt’. These can be added to your pinboard.
6. Track your activity
Fitness trackers, also called activity trackers, activity monitors or fitness bands, are like high-tech pedometers that can count your steps and then estimate the distance you’ve travelled and the calories you’ve burned. The more advanced (and expensive) ones include features like sleep tracking, vibrating alarms and heart-rate monitoring. All this can then be synced with an app on your smart phone, tablet or PC, so you can monitor your progress. The idea is that they spur you on to exercise more, helping you to get fitter and/or lose weight.
Some of them can be expensive, so do think carefully about whether you’ll use them and how much you’ll get out of them before you splash out on a specialist gadget. There are plenty of free fitness apps out there, though, so you can get some motivation without having to spend anything.
7. Record what you’re eating
Food diaries have long been a good way to keep a record of what you eat as a way of making healthier food decisions, but technology has made them even better. Now there are websites and apps that can record every meal, whilst calculating the amount of calories in each meal and comparing this to your energy requirements for the day. Some also double up as an exercise tracker and allow you to add friends via Facebook for motivation and to help keep you on track.
Sound a bit too much? There’s no need for most people to track their food intake all the time. Start by tracking a few days from time to time to get a clearer picture of what you are eating. Then you know exactly where to make adjustments in order to get closer to your goals.
- MyFitnessPal and Loseit are some of the most popular and free calorie counters.
- If you just want to track how much sugar you are having, try the sugar smart tracking app to see how much total sugar is in your everyday food and drink.
8. Watch a ‘how to’ video
No matter what kind of video you want to watch, the chances are you’ll find it on YouTube – for free. As well as popular entertainment, music, and marketing videos, there are a lots of informative videos that can help you be healthy in a fun and interactive way, including recipe ideas and free exercise videos.
Watch our video of how to eat more veg without noticing:
You can also watch:
Visit the BHF YouTube channel to see all our videos.
Finding reliable information
Remember that not all of the information online is reliable, and this is particularly true for health.
Check the credentials of people claiming to be experts – are their qualifications and employment history listed on their website or social media profile?
When it comes to healthy eating there are many different theories, not all of them backed with evidence. Check whether the advice fits with BHF healthy eating advice, which is always in line with the best available evidence and official recommendations.
Remember to only share online what you want to share and what you’d be happy for strangers to see.