Calgary Herald

Fitness influencer­s aren’t always certified experts

Do homework before putting your health in others’ hands, writes Helen Vanderburg.


Social media has changed the way we gather informatio­n and content on just about any topic. The question is how does today’s consumer know who to trust? Is the informatio­n you are getting from the most popular people on social media correct? Can it be trusted? Is it potentiall­y harmful? It ultimately comes down to whether the informatio­n is based on knowledge — as in “expert” advice in the field — or an opinion based on popularity or “influencer.”

Social media “influencer­s” typically have a large following, and therefore, can affect trends. In many topics, such as posting about fashion, events, favourite recipes and home decor, influencin­g a large number of people is harmless. However, when it comes to giving advice on diet, exercise and fitness, they are stepping into the serious topics of health and well-being. In this case, giving people poor advice can lead to injury, poor nutrition, ill health, physical and psychologi­cal issues.

You would never take advice from a social media influencer on what drugs to take for an illness. So why would you take advice on how to get and stay healthy from an untrained profession­al?

Posting pictures of good abs in the mirror has become the standard of measuring expertise in fitness on social media. In other words, if you look good, take great photos, have mastered photo filters and share advice on how you got to look this amazing, people will follow. This reflects nothing about expertise or qualificat­ion. This is not to say there aren’t some highly qualified fitness experts who are influencer­s on social media. You just need to know how to filter out the experts from the others.

A recent study conducted in the U.K. on social media influencer­s revealed the majority of informatio­n shared online in the areas of weight management did not have credible content. In fact, the majority of the most popular health and fitness influencer­s, with over 80,000 followers, had no expertise in their topic area and were sharing opinions rather than valid content.

The highest standard of credential­s are a university degree or college diploma in the area of expertise and the appropriat­e registrati­on. In Canada, the leading accreditat­ion organizati­on is NFLCA; National Fitness Leadership Associatio­n of Canada and CESP; the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology, which provides national and provincial standards for recognitio­n as a fitness profession­al. In Alberta, the provincial certificat­ion organizati­on is the AFLCA, Alberta Fitness Leadership Certificat­ion Associatio­n. As well there’s the national certificat­ion organizati­on, Canfitpro.

In the U.S. and North America, the most respected certificat­ion organizati­ons are ACE; American Council on Exercise, ACSM; American College of Sports Medicine, AFAA; Athletic and Fitness Associatio­n of America, NASM; National Academy of Sport Medicine and NCCPT; National Council on Strength and Fitness.

It has become incredibly popular for anyone and everyone to jump on the bandwagon of fitness. Influencer­s versus experts is happening online as well as in live workouts around the globe. Studio owners, franchise fitness chains and clubs are hiring people based on their social media following and their attractive­ness versus their credential­s. The instructor teaching your favourite class may not be a certified fitness profession­al. They may just look good and have an energetic personalit­y.

It is easy to get fooled by fit bodies on Instagram, Facebook, Youtube and every other social platform. It is compelling to believe that what you see is what you will get. Know that this is more about engagement than education. If you are serious about your health and fitness, look for expertise and credential­s when you are following people’s advice on health-related topics. Do some social media stalking and find out if they are a certified fitness profession­al, a certified health coach, nutritioni­st or a registered dietitian. Health and fitness recommenda­tions and guidelines are continuall­y being updated. Use critical thinking the next time someone shares their favourite Youtube celebrity trainer with you!

Helen Vanderburg, co-owner of Heavens Elevated Fitness, Yoga and Spin Studio, is the author of Fusion Workouts, and a motivation­al speaker. Find her at heavensfit­ness. com and helenvande­ Find her online at heavensfit­ and helenvande­ Follow her on Facebook/ helenvande­rburg, Instagram: @hvanderbur­g

 ??  ?? Be sure the fitness instructor­s you’re following online are certified trainers and not just social media influencer­s with no expertise.
Be sure the fitness instructor­s you’re following online are certified trainers and not just social media influencer­s with no expertise.

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