When it comes to fitness and training it seems everyone is an expert either from their own experience or from what they’ve been told. This has been the case forever but now we have the internet noise added to the mix. There are websites, blogs, social media pages and ‘fake news’ sources of information to either inform, advertise or possibly confuse the facts from fiction.
As it is for any field of knowledge we need to be able to have a sense of what is right or correct or factual and what is not.
Some clear examples of misleading claims and statements are evident on the television channels that are devoted mainly to infomercials and particularly those that promote fitness and health products like exercise equipment and skin care creams. The promoters of the product make claims that ‘research’ proves the efficacy of the product while a beautiful well-muscled model is demonstrating it’s use and sometimes with a ‘before and after’ photograph of them. Even if they refer the watchers to a website for more conclusive proof one may find that their scientists are employed by the product manufacturer, hence have a conflict of interest.
Other television shows that seem more journalistic and are based on real science are also potentially misleading as they sometimes sensationalise a new fitness discovery which can distract us from the whole truth. A clear example of this is the recent coverage of the benefits of High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT for short. Unless we listen very carefully and for the whole duration of the show we might miss the important points that although a person can get high cardiovascular fitness from very short periods of intense exercise (3x4 min) each week, they still need to firstly, have a good fitness base to start with and secondly, still have to warm up for 10 minutes at least in each session to prevent muscle strain or a dangerous cardiovascular event.
How do we then work out what’s true and factual amongst all the claims?
The internet can be the first place to look for well-researched and evidence-based information but you need to be trained in research methods then be able to decipher the jargonistic material and then make a decision whether it was strong evidence or not. The usual requirement is a university undergraduate degree in a related field or have a way of finding summaries of meta-studies (overviews of many research papers done by very experienced researchers such as professors and their teams of students).
If just using a search engine like Google (not even Google Scholar) you are likely to see the first page taken up by popular articles and sites by companies selling their wares related in a vague way to the area you are interested in. It doesn’t get much more specific or scientific in the next few pages of searching either. Books can be great but become outdated very quickly these days.
Allied health professionals are trained in providing evidence-based practice but also use clinical knowledge to provide the best treatment or education they can. All have to do continuing professional development which means keeping on learning and staying up-to-date with new facts and methods. Keep in mind though that even this process has is misgivings as there is far more to learn than time to devote to it, yet if you want to separate fact from fiction AHPs are still among the best sources of information. If what you need to know is important then probe deeply.