Social media has a mixed reputation. You can get sucked in, focus on the negative and even start comparing your experiences to those of your friends. But if you recognize that your friends have bad days, too, and that the world is bigger than the latest political debate, social media can actually be a powerful tool for improving your health.

Maybe it’s counter-intuitive, but social media connects you to friends who can help motivate and inspire you, day after day. If your friends have your back, then their comments on social media will help you push forward when you need it most.

You may have gotten off track from the exercise you promised yourself in the new year, but with summer coming — and beach trips and weddings on the calendar — now is the perfect time to get back into a healthy routine, and you can bring your social network along.

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Sharing your intentions with friends is an effective way to maintain healthy habits. As a sports psychologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, my patients are constantly asking for new ways to stay motivated. Here are four tips I provide, with social media as the anchor:

1. Set a goal for yourself and post it publicly for all your friends to see. If you set a goal and then follow it up with a commitment to your peers, you’re more likely to hit your target. Your friends will help you stay motivated, and cheer you on with every accomplishment. Never underestimate the power of that positive reinforcement.

2. Determine the style of motivation you need. Some people respond better to the “tough love” approach than others, but if you need a swift kick in the pants to stay on task, ask for it. Connecting with friends and family on social media can be a daily sounding board for inspiration and healthy course correction.

3. Identify people in your social circle who can hold you accountable, either through messages or face-to-face. No one knows you better than the people in your support network. Reach out to them individually, outside of social media, so they can follow your progress and help you work through your biggest challenges. Not everyone on your social media sites will anchor your progress — but those who do are there for the long haul, and knowing how important your health is, they will want to help.

4. Set repercussions if you don’t meet your goals, and rewards for when you do. Without accountability, none of us would ever make progress. Track that accountability with your social network and keep to it. Maybe you cut the evening’s TV time if you don’t work out that day, or set aside funds for donating to a charity (to be sent as a reward after you’ve succeeded). On the positive, if you meet a key target, treat yourself and share that progress!

In some ways, social media sites can be better than fitness trackers and apps because they create intrinsic motivation to maintain healthy habits. As a supplement to those other motivators, the sites can be even more powerful. Positive feedback from the supportive people in your life will make you feel good, and as you feel better, you will be more motivated to keep healthy habits. It’s a win-win.

Originally published at on April 4, 2017.

Originally published at