Social Media: Not Just Idle Chatter
A healthy dose of the World Wide Web might be just what the
IN TODAY'S MUSIC-DOWNLOADING, photo-uploading
world, it's tempting to think social media is all about
entertainment. But a healthy new horizon awaits health seekers
savvy enough to tap into technology. "Social media is bringing
health within arm's reach," says Jay Bernhardt, Ph.D., MPH,
director of the National Center for Health Marketing at the Centers
for Disease Control.
Here's how social media can help your health.
>> Organizing goals. When it comes to healthy
decisions, setting goals is half the battle. Sites such as
RememberTheMilk and Google Calendar help you organize your
health-related tasks and send yourself reminders.
>> Getting motivated. If weight loss is on
your mind, virtual weight-loss blogs and websites allow you to
"see" a simulated version of yourself at a lower weight. Meetup can
help you connect with others who are health-minded. Creating a
Facebook group around a health goal can foster online
>> Tracking your progress. Sites such as
Fitday and FitTracker can help chart your progress with weight,
exercise and food goals. At iStats, you can "work out" with
friends, comparing your results. Search "online fitness
communities" to find a good fit.
>> Tapping health resources. From 24/7 access
to fitness videos and cooking shows to finding the proper technique
for lifting weights, YouTube houses a veritable healthy living
library. Need to find a healthy restaurant? Yelp can help. Another
site called Healthranker invites participants to share and rank
health-related news items.
>> Gaining new perspectives. "Mommy blogging"
sites offer a forum for shared parenting tips and tricks. Work-life
balance blogs invite discussions on how to manage family, work and
friends. From job stress to caring for aging adults, the
blogosphere provides fresh perspective.
>> Finding information fast. During the
recent H1N1, or "swine flu," outbreak, YouTube posted CDC videos on
the virus on its home page. "During emergencies, sites like YouTube
get health messages out almost in real time," Dr. Bernhardt
>> Making new "friends." Having friends is
healthy. Just last year, Harvard researchers found that friends
promote brain health. Enter Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. Not only
can online friends foster a sense of connectedness, but they can be
a major source of health information. "When people get accurate and
relevant health information from their friends- Facebook, MySpace
or real-life friends- that information is very important," Dr.
>> Seeking support. When a health condition
arises, knowing you are not alone is critical. Sites such as
patientslikeme.com connect members living with serious health
conditions. Imtooyoungforthis.org is a place for young cancer
patients to convene. Dailystrength.org offers online groups where
users can exchange advice, treatment experiences and support.
>> Helping others. If you have health
insights to share with others, why not join an online community- or
start your own? When author and new mom Amy Tenderich was diagnosed
with type 1 diabetes in 2004, she turned to the Internet for
support. Finding none, she started her own diabetes information and
support blog. "I was frustrated because I hadn't found connections
with other real people," she says.
In the end, of course you can't use Facebook to displace
friendships or online communities to replace your neighbors, but
social media sites are creating connections that can lead to
healthier living. How tweet is that?
-By Laurie Davies