Who are the experts? When fitness questions need answers

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Who ARe the Experts?

What’s the best brand of athletic shoes? Which foods promote top sports performance? Where should you buy your new bicycle? When should you start a fitness program? How can you achieve maximum strength and flexibility?

Once you make a commitment to fitness and a healthy lifestyle, you may have a lot of questions about exercise, food, and equipment choices. One of the most important questions you can ask is: Who are the experts to turn to for advice?

When the fitness craze came into full swing in the 1980s, books, magazine articles, television reports, and advertisements bombarded the Ameican public with information. Today, interest in fitness remains high, and people who want to get healthy and stay that way must sort out fitness facts from fiction.

But how? One way to be sure you’re getting accurate information is to look for authoritative, objective sources, preferably people with a combinations of an academic degree and experience in the field of sports or training, who are not trying to sell you a product.

Fitness has two basic components: nutrition and exercise. Look for experts in either field, or someone with experience in both. One good source of information about proper diet is your family doctor. Another is a registered dietitian. Your local hospital is also a good source. Home economists, family-living teachers, and registered nurses can also offer sound, objective advice.

If you have questions about exercise, start withh your health or physical education teacher. Other good authorities are people with a master’s or Ph.D. degree in exercise science or exercise physiology and experience with coaching or participation in athletics. Registered athletic trainers also have special expertise in fitness training and injury prevention, as do sports medicine physicians.

Author, Author

Look for the same kind of expertise in books and articles about fitness. Book authors and sources quoted in magazine articles should have good credentials. Research reports should cite references.

A good way to assess the value of information in a magazine article is to look for a well-qualified advisory board listed in the magazine along with the names of the publisher, editor, and other staff members. (This is usually at the front of a magazine.) Keep in mind that these people may screen articles, but probably don’t approve the content of advertising in the magazine.

Advertisers are trying to sell their products. although consumers are somewhat protected by truth-in-advertising laws, some degree of exaggeration is allowed. Adopt a suspicious attitude, even when claims seem to be supported by scientific research. you’ll be better off if you look for results of research reported in reputable scientific journals.

Professional associations and organizations that promote good health and nutrition information are also good authorities. Two organizations with a good reputation are the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance. Ask your health or physical education teacher to help you consult their journals for specific information on a subject.

Groups like the American Heart Association, the American Dietetic Association, and organizations that oversee individual sports, such as U.S. Swimming, are also good places to seek objective information. So is the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, which offers guidelines for fitness and exercise.

Buyer Beware

Asking for sound credentials and objectivity are just two ways of being an informed fitness consumer. You can also learn to spot telltale signs of inaccurate information. Beware of articles that stress fads or emphasize one type of food, product, or program. Everyone has different fitness goals, so authorities should offer a variety of ways to achieve them.

Shy away from articles or people who advise you to take steroids or supplements such as powdered proteins to enhance your health. These products have not been proven advantageous, and they can be extremely dangerous. Anyone who recommends such substances does not have your best interest in mind.

Avoid articles about diets that claim fast weight loss in short periods of time. Experts agree the best way to lose weight is through lifestyle changes that emphasize balanced nutrition and regular exercise.

If you are considering an investment in fitness equipment such as a treadmill, stationary bike, stair climber, or cross-country skiing machine, you’ll need the same consumer skills you use for other major purchases. This home equipment comes in a wide variety of quality and price ranges.

Do Your Homework

Before shopping, do your homework. Consult consumer magazines like Consumer Reports and special interest magazines that run reviews of various equipment. You would be wise to shop in person. Mail order equipment may seem like a bargain, but even if the company offers a money-back guarantee, you give up the chance to try out the equipment before you buy.

Choose a reputable store that offers a variety of manufacturers’ products and whose sales clerks are knowledgeable and willing to take time to help you. Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if anyone has complained about the store’s business practices. Compare quality and price, and ask how features of different models will meet your fitness needs.

Don’t buy any equipment until you’ve had a chance to try it, either in the store or at a fitness club. If the store won’t let you use their display equipment and can’t suggest a place you can try it, shop somewhere else.

Shop around anyway. Always get a second opinion — or more. Compare prices, features, and sales pitches. Be sure to ask where you can get parts for the equipment if it needs repair. Ask competitors what they think of each other’s products. Sales representatives may make the same recommendations, or they may vary widely. Add what they say to information you’ve acquired from independent media to form your opinion.

Ultimately, decisions about your fitness program are yours. For best results, screen information carefully. Expert opinions based on scientific research are available, but you’ll probably have to sort through some less reliable information, too. Pay attention to the credentials and experience of authors and people who claim to be in the know before adopting their advice.