The Internet can be a powerful tool for promoting health with its abundant resources on adopting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
The Internet can be a powerful tool for promoting health with its abundant resources on adopting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. There are countless Websites devoted to diet, physical activity, and exercise, many from credible and highly respected organizations, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Heart Association. Harnessing the power of the Internet to create a virtual platform for promoting behavior change is becoming the new frontier for healthcare professionals, patients, families, and communities.
In 2007, researchers published a review of 15 studies that used Web-based strategies to promote physical activity in sedentary adults (http://tinyurl.com/mlxs2u). The Web-based strategies included e-mail support, educational opportunities, chat sessions, and access to a therapist. The study’s outcomes measurements included meeting physical activity guidelines using self-report questionnaires, and there were short-term (<3 months) and long-term (>6 months) endpoints. The authors found that just over half of the studies reported significant behavioral changes in their participants, and they concluded that there was modest evidence for the efficacy of Web-based physical activity interventions, at least for the short-term. While these studies were conducted in sedentary, healthy adults, the key characteristics of Web-based interventions to promote health can be extrapolated to patients with cancer.
The Web’s Health Promotion Power
The Internet is always available, and most individuals now have computers with Internet access. Those who don’t can usually access the Internet from libraries, cancer treatment centers, and community agencies. Further, wireless connections in restaurants and other public places paired with the widespread availability of portable Internet-enabled devices, such as laptops and smartphones, ensure individuals have the ability to connect to the Web from virtually anywhere. This ability to stay connected may help promote adherence to a healthy lifestyle, especially in homebound patients with cancer, as it allows them to engage with healthcare professionals and others, rather than feeling isolated and cut off from the world.
Countless Websites offer free access to health promotion activities, such as calorie counting (http://caloriecount.about.com) and exercise monitoring (www.fitwatch.com/diary/activitydiary.html). Many sites also feature free applications related to health promotion that can be downloaded to a handheld device, which further facilitate adherence to a healthy lifestyle. These sites may be helpful to both caregivers, who do not always fi nd the time to care for themselves, and cancer survivors who are seeking ways to maintain or improve their health.
Numerous Websites are intended specifically for patients with cancer, their families, and survivors. These Websites may be hosted by a hospital, cancer treatment center, work place, or social services agency. Many individuals battling cancer or those who have survived it also start their own Websites, often including many interesting and useful features, such as blogs, forums, and links to support services.
Need for research
More research needs to be undertaken in assessing the use of Web-based strategies to promote health and physical activity in patients with cancer and survivors. The Miriam Hospital and Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, are planning on conducting one such study in adult cancer survivors between 18 and 39 years of age. The study plans on providing its participants with Web-based support for physical activity as well as peer-to-peer support.
While health promotion previously took place in doctor’s offices, gyms, and dietician offices, it is increasingly moving online. There are countless useful resources on the Web that can be used to promote health, including in patients with cancer. While more research needs to be conducted to determine how effective Web-based strategies are in promoting a healthy lifestyle, there is no doubt that nurses will increasingly find themselves promoting health via the virtual world.
Lisa Marie Bernardo, PhD, MPH, RN, HFS, is an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing. She is an ACSM-certified Health Fitness Specialist and ACSM/ACS Cancer Exercise Trainer and an ACSM-licensed Wellness Coach.