Dr. Quynh Nguyen smiling. She is wearing a blue suit jacket over a dark top.

Dr. Quynh Nguyen, an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health

September 3, 2019

Dr. Quynh Nguyen, an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health, collaborated with Boston University researchers on a study analyzing social media users’ mentions of physical activity to draw conclusions about who exercises and the popularity of different activities in the United States.

The researchers analyzed over 80 million mentions of physical activity on Twitter from almost 500,000 users in over 2,900 counties. 

Their findings show some variance in physical activity levels, intensity and activity preference by region and sex; for example, while both men and women mentioned going to the gym at similar rates, CrossFit was the most popular activity of choice among men, compared to yoga for women.

Women in the West were found to participate in more intense activities than women in other regions. For men, however, the most intense title went to Midwest residents.

There were some similarities, too: walking was the most popular activity for men and women from any region.

Nguyen and the research team hope their findings will aid public health officials in the fight against physical inactivity, which can have severe consequences. Worldwide healthcare costs stemming from inactivity in 2016 topped $50 billion.

In the future, health professionals could analyze tweets to notice changes in activity levels and create interventions specifically designed for certain populations based on preferred exercises. Doctors could even use patients’ self-reported activities to further inform and personalize medical guidance.

Dr. Quynh Nguyen is a social epidemiologist and works with non-traditional sources of data, such as social media, to identify neighborhood signs of health over time.

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