Many of us accept we’re not the healthiest person on the planet.
But new research warns this mindset could be dangerous.
In fact, according to Stanford University, people who view themselves as less healthy than others are at risk of suffering a premature death – no matter how active they actually are.
The study is the latest of many to show how our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs have a direct impact on our health.
Experts say this shows we should equally prioritize feeling positive and working out.
‘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,’ co-author Dr Alia Crum said.
The surveys documented participants’ levels of physical activity, health and personal background, among other measures.
In one of the samples, participants wore an accelerometer to measure their activity over a week.
They were all asked the same question: ‘Would you say that you are physically more active, less active, or about as active as other persons your age?’
The researchers then viewed death records from 2011, which was 21 years after the first survey was conducted.
They found that people who saw themselves as less active than others were up to 71 percent more likely to die in the follow-up period than people who thought they were more active than their peers.
This was even true after they controlled for physical activity, age, body mass index, chronic illnesses and other factors.
Dr Crum’s prior research shows that the health benefits people get out of everyday activities depend in part on their mindsets – that is, whether or not they believe that they are getting good exercise.
‘With sexual arousal, a simple thought or idea can have immediate physical effects.
‘We experience these things regularly, and yet we’re not cataloging them as something that matters.
‘For whatever reason – dualism or a prioritization of the material – we tend to ignore the fact that our thoughts, mindsets and expectations are shaping our everyday physiology.’
Zahrt and Dr Crum say the findings could help change our perception that vigorous exercise in a gym is the only way to attain a proper activity level.
Being mindful of and feeling good about activities you do every day – like taking the stairs, walking or biking to work, or cleaning the house – could be an easy first step for everyone to benefit their health, they say.
‘It’s time that we start taking the role of mindsets in health more seriously,’ Dr Crum said. ‘In the pursuit of health and longevity, it is important to adopt not only healthy behaviors, but also healthy thoughts.’