The study, which was led by researchers from Stanford University, had determined that individuals who believe they’re not as active as people who are the same age could be at risk of dying younger compared to those who perceive themselves as more active – even if both groups have the same activity levels.
During the study’s follow-up period, researchers found out that individuals who consider themselves as somewhat inactive had an alarming 71 percent likelihood of dying, unlike their peers who they perceive as in better physical health. The results were the same even after the researchers controlled for actual physical activity levels, age, chronic illnesses, and other demographic and health factors.
Dr. Octavia Zahrt and Alia Crum, who were part of the study, examined data collated from three nationally representative samples that had a total sample size of 61,141 U.S. adults. The participants were surveyed from 1990 to 2006 and mortality data on the participants were taken in 2011.
Perception and physical health
Dr. Zahrt, a doctoral candidate at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, explained that even though most people know that a lack of regular physical activity can be bad for your health, not everyone’s aware that thinking you’re not getting enough exercise can also negatively affect your health. (Related: Busting The Top 4 Exercise Myths.)
The survey participants answered different questions regarding their level of activity. In two of the samples, actual physical activity was gauged through self-reports. Participants reported the kinds of activities they engaged in along with duration, frequency, and intensity.
For the other sample, participants used an accelerometer, a device that measured their real-time activity levels for one week. The participants also reported their “perceived level of physical activity” based on their answer to the question, “Would you say that you are physically more active, less active, or about as active as other persons your age?”
The researchers were fascinated by the participants’ perceptions about their physical activity, which didn’t reflect their actual activity levels.
Dr. Zahrt said, “Our perceptions about how much exercise we are getting and whether or not we think that exercise is adequate are influenced by many factors other than how much exercise we are actually getting.” She commented that some factors could include living in an area where people the same age are incredibly fit, which may lead you to believe that you’re in bad physical shape even if you’re not.
Why is your perception such a major factor in your physical health? The authors believe that this could be due to various pathways, like the placebo effect. For example, in some research studies, active drugs aren’t as effective if we’re not aware that we’ve taken them.
Crum, assistant professor of psychology and director of the Mind and Body Lab at Stanford University, shared that in the same vein, when a person doesn’t think that they are getting enough exercise, they may not receive all the physiological benefits from physical activity compared to an individual who thinks that they’re exercising enough. She continued, “Placebo effects are very robust in medicine, it is only logical to expect that they would play a role in shaping the benefits of behavioral health as well.”
The authors also noted that a different pathway is that when people think they’re not doing as good as their peers, they “become depressed, fearful, and less active,” which can then negatively affect their health.
Crum said that it’s time to change the popular notion that the only exercise that counts is an intense physical activity done in a gym. She concluded that based on their research, your perception that “normal” daily activities also count as exercise is just as crucial as actually doing the activities. To become healthy and to live longer, it’s important to both practice “healthy behaviors” and think “healthy thoughts.”
Caring for your mental and physical health
Remember that when it comes to your fitness, your mental and physical health are inseparable. If you need some help to stay in shape, try the tips below:
- Don’t forget to rest – Let your mind and body recharge by getting enough sleep and relaxing. Take breaks after you work out, and let your mind unwind so you can stay healthy.
- Exercise regularly – It doesn’t matter if you go to the gym or clean your whole house: regular exercise is a major factor that can help you stay fit. But aside from helping you reach a healthy weight, exercise is also good for your mental health. Exercise produces endorphins, which helps you feel happy. It can also boost your confidence and improve your self-image.
- Spend time with your family and friends – Hang out with your friends whenever you can. Spending time with your loved ones is good for both your mental and physical well-being, so try some fun physical activities instead of watching a movie at home.
If you’re struggling to maintain a healthy attitude about weight loss, you can read more articles about tips on how to be more mentally and physically fit at Slender.news.