Surf your way to better health

I’m a firm believer that the single most important factor in how successful someone is when trying to become more fit or otherwise improve their health is how badly they want to reach their goal.

You have to change for you, that’s the bottom line.

You may start to change because someone else wants you to, but you won’t reach your goal. Change is hard, and it’s in our natures to resist change, to one degree or another. That doesn’t mean change is impossible, however. People can and do change, all the time. Some of those people even manage to fully integrate those changes into their daily life, and never turn back.

Next to a deep personal motivation to improve your health or your fitness, the two most important factors for success are information and support. Information is the tool that lets you map your way toward your goal. Support is the tool that will help keep you on your path when you start to lose your way.

A study just published in the online (appropriately) Journal of Internet Medical Research looked at how effective internet-based support was in helping people maintain a weight loss.

In the 30-month Weight Loss Maintenance Trial, sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), all participants enrolled in a six-months weight-loss program that was centered around creating a calorie deficit by decreasing the number of calories eaten and increasing the number of calories burned through moderate-intensity exercise. Then, successful participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups for the weight-maintenance portion of the study.

One group was essentially told, “goodbye and good luck,” another group met with a health counselor each month, and the third group used an interactive website that gave them access to record-keeping, progress-tracking and goal-setting tools, diet and exercise information, and social support.

The internet group as a whole was more successful at weight maintenance over the 30-months than the group left to their own devices, but less successful than the group of participants who still had face-to-face contact with a counselor. “Maintenance success” was defined, for the purposes of the study, as regaining the least amount of weight (kind of depressing, but that’s the way it goes). The most successful internet maintainers were those who logged onto the website more frequently and spent more time using the various features were more successful at weight loss maintenance than those users who logged on less frequently and spent less time once they did log on.

Interestingly, the consistent users tended to be older, male, not African American, more educated and started out with less weight to lose. Also interesting (I thought) was that the website used in the study was designed to be really dynamic and engaging, more so than websites used in the rather limited number of similar studies to day.

So what’s the takeaway from this? If you are really motivated to make change happen, and you don’t have a support system in place (an encouraging spouse, partner, sibling, friend, in-person support group) then it might behoove you to seek out one of the many online resources. Because no matter how motivated you are, there will come a point where you hit a plateau, have a really bad week, have an unexpected event make it hard to stick to your plan, etcetera, etcetera. Having a real or virtual support group can help you get back in the saddle. And you’d be amazed how much you benefit when you are the one in the position to offer support to someone else.

So don’t hesitate to make use of these sites if the idea appeals to you and you find one that suits your personality and goals. It may give you that extra little something you need to become a healthier you…even if you don’t know you need it.