Toronto, Jan 19 (PTI) Using online social networking sites such as Facebook may provide people the necessary inspiration to exercise, according to a study.

The study, published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour, also identified a potential maladaptive side of Facebook resulting from social comparisons, bullying, and feeling left out.

“We have a basic need to feel connected with others and this feeling of connection influences our wellbeing and motivation,” said Alison Divine from the University of Western Ontario in Canada.

“As a society, we are connecting and communicating substantially through technology and social media platforms, such as Facebook. University students tend to spend a significant time on Facebook,” Divine said.

Online social networking sites, such as Facebook, provide their more than 1.28 billion daily users the ability to accumulate friends and create interactions, researchers said.

University-aged students make up 23 per cent of all Facebook users with 32 per cent of them spending more than four hours a day on the site, researchers said.

Working with Professor Susan Hunter from the University of Western Ontario, Divine surveyed 24 undergraduate students at the same UK university on their Facebook use, exercise motivation and connectivity to one another.

Nineteen of those students took part in focus groups exploring experiences of exercise-related Facebook use and its perceived role in motivation.

The findings showed that providing supportive physical activity environments within Facebook may be a successful avenue to get students exercising.

However, the study also identified a potential maladaptive side of Facebook resulting from social comparisons, bullying, and feeling left out.

The findings revealed a double-edge sword all need to be mindful of when turning to social media for motivation, researchers said.

“Facebook can influence why we exercise through developing connections with others and, in turn, enhancing our exercise motivation,” said Divine, who collaborated on the study with colleagues at John Moores University in the UK.

“This is particularly apparent with the interactions leading to feeling connected to others through supportive and positive environments on Facebook,” Divine said.

“When the feelings of connection with others are present, using Facebook is associated with increases in the types of motivation associated with prolonged exercise and physical activity engagement,” he said.

While Facebook has the potential to get people physically moving in a positive direction, there still remains what Divine called the “dark side” to the social site.

“When interactions are not positive actions such a negative comments about your own exercise behaviour or attempt, or even negative social comparison with other exercise endeavours it can lead to feeling disconnected from others, which, in turn, negatively affects exercise motivation,” Divine said.

Individuals who exercised for extrinsic motives such as poor body image, the drive for thinness or even online bullying were more likely to be driven by feelings of guilt and, as a result, experience poorer psychological wellbeing, researchers said.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.