KEEPING FIT: IT IS ALL ABOUT YOUR MINDSET
You really can think yourself fit, scientists have shown, after discovering that people who believe themselves to be physically active gain major health benefits.
A study of 60,000 people found that individuals who believed they were less active than others were up to 71 percent more likely to die in the following 21 years, even if they were relatively fit.
In contrast, those who considered themselves to be physically fit were protected against early death, even if that perception was wrong , in what researchers believe is an exercise placebo effect.
“Our findings fall in line with a growing body of research suggesting that our mindsets, in this case, beliefs about how much exercise we are getting relative to others, can play a crucial role in our health,” says Alia Crum, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Stanford University.
“It’s time that we start taking the role of mindsets in health more seriously.
“In the pursuit of health and longevity, it is important to adopt not only healthy behaviors, but also healthy thoughts.”
T he researchers say that people could gain the same impact by being mindful of, and feeling good about doing everyday activities, such as taking the stairs, walking, biking to work or cleaning the house.
Crum and her team analyzed surveys from more than 60,000 people in the United States who were asked about their levels of physical activity and monitored with an accelerometer for a week.
The researchers then viewed death records from 2011, which was 21 years after the first survey was conducted. Those who believed they did not exercise enough were far more likely to have died in the study period, regardless of how much activity they got.
“Most people know that not exercising enough is bad for your health,” adds doctoral student Octovaia Zahrt of Stanford University Graduate School of Business.
“But most people do not know that thinking you are not exercising enough can also harm your health.”
Zahrt says she had first noticed the phenomenon when arriving to study at Stanford and finding the other students were “incredibly active”. Although she biked regularly and visited the gym, she began to feel stressed about her lack of exercise.
It led her to wonder whether the belief could actually alter motivation and affect health. Those who deem themselves unfit are more likely to remain inactive, fueling feelings of fear, stress or depression that negatively affect their health.
The researchers also believe that it is possible to get a placebo effect from the belief that they are physically active.