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Can you get fit by just thinking about it?

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Perhaps your old gym teacher yelled at you, saying that “you can’t get it done just by thinking about it! If you could go back in time, your wise guy response could be “actually there is a new study suggesting exactly that!” It would be a stretch, but citing the journal Health Psychology (July 20, 2017 issue) would provoke little backtalk.

The study showed that just thinking that you’re not exercising enough can be harmful, apart from how much you are actually exercising. Specifically, the subjects who thought that others in their peer group exercised more than they did were more likely to die earlier than people in their age group, even if the two groups actually exercised the same amount. The study involved over 60,000 subjects who took surveys and submitted to having their activity tracked by the Stanford University researchers.

After controlling for confounding variables such as health and demographics, those who thought they did less exercise were over 70% more likely to die prematurely! However, much of his comparative result could be explained by those who thought they exercised sufficiently feeling good about their health and that these good feelings led to longer life. Either way, the effect of perception of, and attitude about, exercise may be even stronger than we have presumed.

This phenomenon is often referred to as the placebo effect of exercise and has been shown in other studies too. These other studies measured such things as blood pressure and fat, instead of death, but drew similar conclusions. We knew that exercise and positive thoughts are good for us. We now know that exercise and positive thoughts are good for each other too.

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