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Just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t make it true

TORONTO, Ont.-- If you thought resorting online for exercise tips as a long-haul truck driver was a good idea – think again.

TORONTO, Ont.– If you thought resorting online for exercise tips as a long-haul truck driver was a good idea – think again.

A recent study published this past February in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management shows Web sites that offer physical activity advice to long-haul truck drivers may actually be doing more harm than good.

Due to the exhaustive and often busy schedules of truck drivers, claims Dr. Paul Gorczynski, the corresponding author of the study and post-doctoral fellow at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, most don’t have the ability to see a health-care provider (let alone get enough physical activity) on a regular basis. Thus, booting up a computer to search for workout pointers is a simple option for long-haul drivers because “it’s anonymous and it’s convenient.”

Though the Internet may be the easiest way to get information, the study found that the quality of exercise information found in the 44 Web sites examined was very poor and didn’t adhere to any sort of recognized national guidelines.

Where the Canadian Physical Activity Guideline recommends 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic exercise per week for adults aged 18 to 64 (this includes activities like bike riding, jogging, and cross-country skiing) only a fifth of the Web sites relayed this necessary information to their readers.

More startling is that none of the Web sites studied touched on the Canadian guidelines for resistance exercise, specifically. According to the national guidelines, adults should add bone and muscle strengthening exercises to their workout regimen at least two days per week. This is especially important to truck drivers, claims Gorczynski, because of the unique age group most truck drivers fall under.

As specified by Statistics Canada, nearly 48% of truck drivers in Canada are between the ages of 45 and 64, an age where trips and falls could mean more broken bones. Without strength training in multiple and major muscle groups a couple of days a week, bone density decreases and the chances of bone fractures and breaks are more likely.

“It’s very important to maintain muscle mass,” said Gorczynski. “That message is not getting out online and a lot of truck drivers are at risk.”

In addition, the study found that the sites examined mostly catered to male drivers.

“Only two Web sites offered health advice to women,” said Gorczynski.

While a small percentage of truck drivers in Canada are female (3.5% according to Statistics Canada) research shows that more and more women are entering the trucking industry, and they would need exercise and health information too; another glaring hole found in the study.

As if the information (or lack thereof) being relayed on the sites wasn’t enough to scare off drivers seeking exercise advice online, the reading levels of the Web sites also proved to be worrisome. The Canadian Health Libraries Association recommends that health information be written between the reading grade levels of six and eight (the reading level of the average American sixth to eighth grader). According to the research, 64% of the sites had a grade reading level higher than eight – some even required the reader to have advanced knowledge in behavioural psychology in order for them to understand the content.

“These Web sites should get their readability down,” said Gorczynski. By using language that is easy to read, it ensures the reader fully comprehends the instructions laid out for them – especially important when it comes to information concerning one’s health.

“Posting pictures or having videos could also help,” added Gorczynski. “Because people learn in all different kinds of ways.”

And when it came to a site’s layout, researchers found that keeping it simple is best.

“The architectures of the Web sites were very complicated,” said Gorczynski.

Many sites required multiple clicks and the knowledge of how the specific page worked in order to find the intended subject matter.

“Most people would give up at that point,” noted Gorczynski. “We believe that making information accessible would benefit the health of these drivers.”

Gorczynski also claimed that the Web sites weren’t making use of the easy and obvious tools they have available to them – things like language that is encouraging and inspiring to truck drivers who may be using the Internet as their only source of health and exercise information.

“There weren’t any strategies in place,” said Gorczynski. “There was no mention of setting goals. Or anything to help people build confidence and get motivated.”

A final takeaway from the study is a warning from Gorczynski to truck drivers thinking of going online for workout advice: “They should be very cautious of what’s out there.”

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