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Instagram Gets Couch Potatoes Up and Running, Study Says
By Ann-Christin Herbe
Normally, it is easy for me to motivate myself to work out. But there are also the days when my couch seems so much more comfortable than the weight bench in the gym.
On such days, out of habit, I mostly reach for my cell phone and open Instagram to distract myself and buy a little more time. I'll go just a little later, I tell myself. Probably.
Not Good for the Self-Image
After just a couple of minutes on the social media platform, I am already being confronted with just how sporty other people seem to be. A muscular man is doing push-ups; a young woman in tight sportswear is holding a plate in front of the camera — hashtags: fitforlife and cleaneating.
Can this motivate me to do some sport today after all? Or does it only rub in my own weaknesses? Instagram has a bad reputation when it comes to influencing people's image of themselves. According to a British study from 2017, no other social media platform has such a negative impact on body image, sleep behavior and mental health.
Instagram a Motivator After All?
Despite this, it would seem that it is, in fact, worthwhile spending a few minutes with the app every so often. A new study by scientists from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) shows that those who regularly watch motivational content on Instagram are more likely to be active and enjoy sports more.
"Our goal was to show people what their personal motivation is to do sports," says one of the study authors from NTNU, Frode Stenseng.
To test the influence of Instagram on sports motivation, the study participants were divided into two groups. One group followed an Instagram account that posted motivational sayings or images every three days over a period of four weeks, while the other one didn't.
Sporting Fun Through Personal Initiative
The posts on the account were based on various motivation theories. They were meant to give users the feeling that they were part of a group and yet were acting autonomously at the same time.
"The participants who followed the motivation account associated many positive emotions with their sporting activities. The others did not," says Stenseng. This is because those who feel they have decided to do a workout on their own initiative because it fulfills their desire for fitness and health have more fun doing it.
Targets Should Remain Realistic
"Reading motivational sayings in social networks can certainly trigger an initial motivation to want to do sport," says motivation coach Petra Wolfram. Nevertheless, it takes more than just motivation to get those sports shoes on.
"Before I set myself a goal, I take stock of where I am at," says Wolfram. The next step is to consider what one actually wants to achieve. "The goal is allowed to be a bit of a dream, but it should also be realistically achievable," she says. If not, she says, people who are just starting off in sports will tend to give up quickly.
Wolfram has other tips for getting people moving: "The path to the goal is important. I like to compare it with climbing a mountain. When you're at the bottom, you may not be able to see the summit yet, so you have to set in-between goals."
And if you experience a setback, you shouldn't focus on it for too long, says Wolfram. "Don't ask 'Why did this happen to me?' as much as 'What can I do better and what do I need to get ahead?'"
The Business of Fitness Influencers
Instagram is the perfect platform to market your own sporty lifestyle. Fitness influencers provide their followers with recipe ideas and self-designed training programs — some free of charge, some for large sums of money. Along with this comes the daily message: "You are part of the community; we'll get fit together."
As well as likes and comments, the influencers profit above all from the willingness of their community to spend money. In an American study, 82% of people surveyed said they would buy a product if an influencer recommended it to them. The more people the influencers reach, the more companies pay them for cooperating.
"Influencers have an enormous reach and impact these days," says psychologist Silje Berg. But she says there is a problem in that much of the content propagated by influencers in the fitness scene is not based on scientific knowledge.
"The study showed that content based on theory can have positive effects, which is why it is important that more people in this area make good use of their reach," says Berg. It is also important for users to approach the content on the platform with a critical eye, she says.
Negative Feedback Through Comments
So-called transformation journeys — when a person's sporting development is accompanied from the very beginning — are also popular. "The encouragement and recognition that people experience through comments can have a motivating effect," says motivation coach Wolfram. "And people start talking with one another and giving each other support."
But not every interaction on Instagram is positive. Comment sections are never without expressions of hate, envy and negativity. Wolfram warns that reading such comments can be demotivating. "It's important to develop a thick skin against such comments to protect yourself," she says.
When she works with competitive athletes, she gets them to completely avoid social media for a few days before a top event or after a big failure as a way of protecting themselves.
Relevance of Health and Sports
But despite the disparaging remarks to be found in comment sections and the negative influence Instagram seems to have on people's body image, the researchers from Norway found several good aspects to the social media platform.
"The study showed that social media can also have a positive influence and is useful in drawing attention to the relevance of health and sports," says Berg.
And for me, that now means it's high time to get off the couch and go do some sport!
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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By Melissa Gaskill
Two decades ago scientists and volunteers along the Virginia coast started tossing seagrass seeds into barren seaside lagoons. Disease and an intense hurricane had wiped out the plants in the 1930s, and no nearby meadows could serve as a naturally dispersing source of seeds to bring them back.
Restored seagrass beds in Virginia now provide habitat for hundreds of thousands of scallops. Bob Orth, Virginia Institute of Marine Science / CC BY 2.0<p>The paper is part of a growing trend of evidence suggesting seagrass meadows can be easier to restore than other coastal habitats.</p><p>Successful seagrass-restoration methods include <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304377099000078?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">transplanting shoots</a>, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1061-2971.2004.00314.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mechanized planting</a> and, more recently, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-17438-4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">biodegradable mats</a>. Removing threats, proximity to donor seagrass beds, planting techniques, project size and site selection all play roles in a restoration effort's success.</p><p>Human assistance isn't always necessary, though. In areas where some beds remain, seagrass can even recover on its own when stressors are reduced or removed. For example, seagrass began to recover when Tampa Bay improved its water quality by reducing nitrogen loads from runoff by roughly 90%.</p><p>But more and more, seagrass meadows struggle to hang on.</p><p>The marine flowering plants have declined globally since the 1930s and currently disappear at a rate equivalent to a football field every 30 minutes, according to the <a href="https://www.unep.org/resources/report/out-blue-value-seagrasses-environment-and-people" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Environment Programme</a>. And research published in 2018 found the rate of decline is <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2018GB005941" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">accelerating</a> in many regions.</p><p>The causes of decline vary and overlap, depending on the region. They include thermal stress from climate change; human activities such as dredging, anchoring and coastal infrastructure; and intentional removal in tourist areas. In addition, increased runoff from land carries sediment that clouds the water, blocking sunlight the plants need for photosynthesis. Runoff can also carry contaminants and nutrients from fertilizer that disrupt habitats and cause algal blooms.</p><p>All that damage comes with a cost.</p>
The Value of Seagrass<p>As with ecosystems like rainforests and <a href="https://therevelator.org/mangroves-climate-change/" target="_blank">mangroves</a>, loss of seagrass increases carbon dioxide emissions. And that spells trouble not just for certain habitats but for the whole planet.</p><p>Although seagrass covers at most 0.2% of the seabed, it <a href="https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/seagrass-secret-weapon-fight-against-global-heating" target="_blank">accounts for 10%</a> of the ocean's capacity to store carbon and soils, and these meadows store carbon dioxide an estimated 30 times faster than most terrestrial forests. Slow decomposition rates in seagrass sediments contribute to their <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/238506081_Assessing_the_capacity_of_seagrass_meadows_for_carbon_burial_Current_limitations_and_future_strategies" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high carbon burial rates</a>. In Australia, according to <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.15204" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> by scientists at Edith Cowan University, loss of seagrass meadows since the 1950s has increased carbon dioxide emissions by an amount equivalent to 5 million cars a year. The United Nations Environment Programme reports that a 29% decline in seagrass in Chesapeake Bay between 1991 and 2006 resulted in an estimated loss of up to 1.8 million tons of carbon.</p>
Eelgrass in the river delta at Prince William Sound, Alaska. Alaska ShoreZone Program NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC; Courtesy of Mandy Lindeberg / NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC<p>Seagrasses also protect costal habitats. A healthy meadow slows wave energy, reduces erosion and lowers the risk of flooding. In Morro Bay, California, a 90% decline in the seagrass species known as eelgrass caused extensive erosion, according to a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272771420303528?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> from researchers at California Polytechnic State University.</p><p>"Right away, we noticed big patterns in sediment loss or erosion," said lead author Ryan Walter. "Many studies have shown this on individual eelgrass beds, but very few studies looked at it on a systemwide scale."</p><p>In the tropics, seagrass's natural protection can reduce the need for expensive and often-environmentally unfriendly <a href="https://www.nioz.nl/en/news/zeegras-spaart-stranden-en-geld" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">beach nourishments</a> regularly conducted in tourism areas.</p><p>Seagrass ecosystems improve water quality and clarity, filtering particles out of the water column and preventing resuspension of sediment. This role could be even more important in the future. By producing oxygen through photosynthesis, meadows could help offset decreased oxygen levels caused by warmer water temperatures (oxygen is less soluble in warm than in cold water).</p><p>The meadows also provide vital habitat for a wide variety of marine life, including fish, sea turtles, birds, marine mammals such as manatees, invertebrates and algae. They provide nursery habitat for <a href="https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/32636/seagrass.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly 20%</a> of the world's largest fisheries — an <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/science/seagrass-meadows-harbor-wildlife-for-centuries/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">estimated 70%</a> of fish habitats in Florida alone.</p><p>Conversely, their disappearance can contribute to die-offs of marine life. The loss of more than 20 square miles of seagrass in Florida's Biscayne Bay may have helped set the stage for a widespread <a href="https://www.wlrn.org/2020-08-14/the-seagrass-died-that-may-have-triggered-a-widespread-fish-kill-in-biscayne-bay" target="_blank">fish kill</a> in summer 2020. Lack of grasses to produce oxygen left the basin more vulnerable when temperatures rose and oxygen levels dropped as a result, says Florida International University professor Piero Gardinali.</p>
Damaged Systems, a Changing Climate<p>Governments and conservationists around the world have already put a lot of effort into coastal restoration efforts. And that's helped some seagrass populations.</p><p>Where stressors remain, though, restoration grows more complicated. <a href="https://www.rug.nl/research/portal/en/publications/the-future-of-seagrass-ecosystem-services-in-a-changing-world(3a8c56db-7bed-4c9e-ac7f-c72453e2a102).html" target="_blank">Research</a> published this September found that only 37% of seagrass restorations have survived. Newly restored meadows remain vulnerable to the original stressors that depleted them, as well as to storms — and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/climate-crisis">climate change</a>.</p>
Seagrass in Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida. Alicia Wellman / Florida Fish and Wildlife / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>In Chesapeake Bay a cold-water species of seagrass is currently hitting its heat limit, especially in summer, according to Alexander Challen Hyman of University of Florida's School of Natural Resources and Environment. As waters continue to warm due to climate change, the species likely will disappear there.</p><p>Climate-driven sea-level rise complicates the problem as well. Seagrasses thrive at specific depths — too shallow and they dry out or are eaten, too deep and there isn't enough light for photosynthesis.</p>
But There’s Good News, Too<p>Luckily, left to its own devices, a seagrass meadow can flourish for hundreds of years, according to a <a href="https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2019.1861" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> published last year by Hyman and other researchers from the University of Florida. The researchers arrived at their conclusion by looking at shells of living mollusks and fossil shells to estimate the ages of meadows in Florida's Big Bend region on the Gulf Coast.</p><p>That area has extensive, relatively pristine seagrass meadows. "Our motivation was to understand the past history of these systems, and shells store a lot of history," said co-author Michal Kowalewski.</p><p>A high degree of similarity between living and dead shells indicates a stable area, while a mismatch suggests an area shifted from seagrass to barren sand. The researchers found that long-term accumulations of shells resembled living ones, suggesting that the seagrass habitats have been stable over time.</p><p>That stability allows biodiversity to thrive, creating conditions where specialist species can survive and flourish, according to Hyman.</p><p>Discovering the long-term stability of seagrass meadows has implications for choosing restoration sites, Kowalewski notes.</p><p>"There must be reasons they thrive in one place, while a mile away they don't and fossil data says they probably never did," he said. "If we remove a seagrass patch, we cannot hope to plant it somewhere else. It's not just the seagrass that is special. The location at which it's found is special, too."</p><p>A better approach is conserving these habitats in the first place, but we're not doing enough of that right now. The UN reports that marine protected areas safeguard just 26% of recorded seagrass meadows, compared with 40% of coral reefs and 43% of mangroves.</p>
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