With Dr. Mehmet Oz being grilled by the Senate for allegedly making false weight loss claims, health-conscious consumers may realize that now more than ever, they need health and fitness experts with credibility and integrity to provide no-nonsense information. Although the internet is littered with hundreds, if not thousands, of fitness gurus, self-proclaimed health experts, and questionable “doctors,” it can be very challenging to sift through the clutter and distinguish which sources are more credible. However, there are a handful of websites that are based on sound and valid science without the hype and magic thinking. These top reliable and credible health and fitness websites, in no particular order, are selected not only due to their thorough research and valid information, but also for their openness to change as science changes.
1. Science-Based Medicine (SBM)
Founded by Steven Novella, M.D., this website evaluates “medical treatments and products of interest to the public” through scientific deduction and promotes the “highest standards and traditions of science in health care,” according to their website. One of their major concern is to address online information about alternative medicines and pseudoscience which permeate the media and even some medical schools. The panel of editors, of which most are trained medical physicians, cover various health care treatments and products, such as Epsom salt, oil pulling, acupuncture and homeopathy. While the website lacks the fanfare that most “health” and “medical” websites have, it contains a wealth of reasoning and logic that most health care professionals, and even fitness trainers, can use as a resource.
Some articles emphasize critical thinking and understanding the scientific process of solving problems. One such article, titled Why We Need Science: “I Saw It With My Own Eyes” Is Not Enough, by Harriet Hall, M.D., explores why anecdotes and perceptions of a treatment can fool people, including clinicians, and the reasons why certain treatments appear to “work.” She gave an example of a disease treatment in which some patients can make wrong observations. How can one know whether a medical treatment works or not?, Hall asked. “If everybody says it works, and it worked for your Aunt Sally, and you try it and your symptoms go away, you can pretty well assume it really works. Right?”
Hall explained that people feel better for various reasons, such as the disease may have run its course or it may be going through a cyclic phase; the placebo effect; incorrect prognosis; and confusion between correlation and causation. Thus, scientific reasoning can help rule out possible causes and effects of a treatment and help both clinicians and patients identify and treat the problem better.
Move over, Food Babe. Examine.com, an emerging organization that provides the public with unbiased information and the latest research on nutrition is currently making waves in social media. Founded by Sol Orwell, the website reviews nutrition with an unbiased approach and over 33, 000 references from scientific literature. Unlike most celebrity and TV nutrition gurus, Examine consists of a panel of nutrition, exercise, biochemistry, biostatistics and related health experts who rigorously review and research nutrition and weight loss claims by the media and products. Some products with a lot of hype that they recently reviewed include coconut oil and fat loss, anti-cancer claims by Kombucha tea, and creatine usage.
Like SBM, Examine lacks advertisements that distract readers and provides objective information with very little emotional appeal. From dietitians and fitness professionals to stay-at-home parents who want to know more about a diet or nutrient about which they read or heard can use Examine as part of their virtual encyclopedia of nutrition. People may also interact with the editors and researchers, including nutrition researcher Kamal Patel, MPH, MBA, and journalist and copy editor Dmitri Barvinok, B.A.
3. Exercise Biology
No list of top health and fitness websites is complete without considering exercise. Exercise Biology, founded by exercise physiologist Anoop Balachandran, M.S., C.S.C.S., is one of the few fitness websites that uses the scientific method to address issues in human performance and movement, physiology, and pain science. Without too much technical exercise jargon, Balachandran can help answer most of the common questions relating to fitness, including fat loss, muscle building, and pain. The articles tend to explore specific issues that most trainers and their clients may ask, such as if deep squats are bad, whether older people should do power training and if pain is all just in the brain.
Balachandran also questions certain claims that companies make. For example, he was one of the early skeptics of the Functional Movement Screen (FMS), a “battery of seven movement tests which claims to predict injuries and even prevent injuries.” In 2008, he pointed out several flaws in reasoning that FMS proponents make, such as “faulty movement patterns” that can result in mechanical stress which leads to injuries and claims based on a lack of scientific evidence. Balachandran challenges fitness and rehab professionals, and non-professionals, too, to question the validity of claims and beliefs that they may have been following for a long time in their profession. By applying science-based evidence to fitness, trainers and coaches can weed out what is bogus and make better choices to help them get their job done.
4. Save Yourself
An unlikely combination of pain science, massage therapy, and dry humor, Save Yourself is probably one of the few science-based resources for those in the massage or manual therapy business. Founder Paul Ingraham, who is a registered massage therapist from British Columbia, Canada, wants to make the website “much friendlier than the big institutional health care sites, and yet more scholarly than most health blogs.” Save Yourself is almost like a Wikipedia for topics related to massage therapy and pain science. Recently, Ingraham included fitness topics, such as questioning if barefoot running prevents injuries and “do’s and don’ts” on a first marathon. In fact, Save Yourself boasts an impressive 282 evolving blog posts that are updated to keep up with the latest research. With the exception of an e-book sale, there are no other advertisements. With large fonts and a color layout that looks suspiciously like Facebook, health professionals and their patients or clients may find this an invaluable resource to answer some of their questions.
Consumers and professionals at a loss to identify which websites and resources are more credible and reliable than others can look to ACE-certified fitness professional Nick Tumminello of Performance University, who has served and evolved with the fitness industry for over 15 years, who provides a few tips.
“When looking at fitness and health information, it’s important to look up the resources that use science as the foundation for the information they provide,” Tumminello explained in an online interview. “If a given fitness information resource is making objective claims based on nothing more than anecdotal experiences, then what it’s basing its information is purely arbitrary. However, if scientific resources accompany the claims they’re making, their claims are verifiable. You can check their facts.”
Even fact-checking is not enough. Customers and professionals need to dig a little deeper to see how far the rabbit hole goes. “Once you’ve engaged in the fact-checking process – yes, if you genuinely want the truth, you do have to put in some intellectual work – you’ll begin to see that there are certain people who are out there teaching and writing articles who are providing more accurate (and more intellectually honest) information than others. From here, you can begin to assign confidence values to the reliability to the various people who are out who are teaching and writing.”
This list is not exclusive to all credible health and fitness websites that provide top-quality, science-based information; rather, these four serve as a model for which consumers and professionals should look. With an arsenal of resources and critical thinking, people can reduce their chances of getting scammed or misled by the likes of Dr. Oz, who claim themselves to be “experts.”
Opinion by Nick Ng