Danger that Strava can fuel ‘obsessive tendencies,’ according to new study

The exercise social media app can also encourage riders to only post positive workout data or pictures

(Image credit: chris catchpole)

Strava users can find themselves in danger of developing “obsessive tendencies”, according to a new university study.

Research from the National University of Ireland, Galway, which involved interviews with 272 cyclists found that fitness apps can help encourage exercise routines, but can also be a spark for unhealthy attitudes towards fitness.

The study explores how fitness apps, specifically Strava, affect the positive of negative implications they have for a person’s wellbeing.

Dr Eoin Whelan, a senior lecturer in business information systems at the JE Cairnes School of Business and Econonics, said: “The majority of exercisers are now using digital technology to track and share their workout data in order to support their fitness goals. But these fitness apps can be a double-edged sword.

“Our study suggests fitness sharing apps can certainly help seed and sustain exercise routines, but there is a danger that some users may develop obsessive tendencies, which need to be avoided.”

Researchers found that apps like Strava, Nike+, MyFitnessPal, RunKeeper, and Fitocracy, are ‘gamified’ to provide rewards and encourage users to keep tracking their exercise.

But the “doubled-edged sword” for cyclists comes into play where riders use the apps for reciprocation or social recognition.

Those who use Strava for reciprocation give support and encouragement to other athletes, and are more likely to have a harmonious passion for cycling.

Conversely, those who use the apps for social recognition - to receive praise and public endorsement – are more likely to develop an obsessive passion for cycling and suffer higher stress levels.

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Dr Whelan said: “Fitness app social features which promote self-recognition, such as posting only positive workout data or photos, can be linked to maladaptive perceptions of exercise and burnout in the long run. In contrast, fitness app social features which promote reciprocation, such as giving support and commenting on colleagues’ activities, are likely to lead to adaptive outcomes.”

The full study, ‘How the social dimension of fitness apps can enhance and undermine wellbeing’, is published in the journal Information Technology & People. 

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Alex Ballinger

Alex Ballinger is editor of BikeBiz magazine, the leading publication for the UK cycle industry, and is the former digital news editor for CyclingWeekly.com. After gaining experience in local newsrooms, national newspapers and in digital journalism, Alex found his calling in cycling, first as a reporter, then as news editor responsible for Cycling Weekly's online news output, and now as the editor of BikeBiz. Since pro cycling first captured his heart during the 2010 Tour de France (specifically the Contador-Schleck battle) Alex covered three Tours de France, multiple editions of the Tour of Britain, and the World Championships, while both writing and video presenting for Cycling Weekly. He also specialises in fitness writing, often throwing himself into the deep end to help readers improve their own power numbers.  Away from the desk, Alex can be found racing time trials, riding BMX and mountain bikes, or exploring off-road on his gravel bike. He’s also an avid gamer, and can usually be found buried in an eclectic selection of books.