You can reap the benefits of exercise by thinking active


  • Fitness
  • Friday, 04 Jan 2019

Dressing sporty and getting exercise accessories might motivate you to become more active with a positive mindset. — AFP

We all know that partaking in some form of exercise is good for health. But if you want to live longer, you’ve got to think that you’re active.

Apparently, thinking that you’re not exercising enough can be harmful to health.

People who think they’re less active than others their age have a greater chance of dying younger than people who perceive themselves as more active, even if their actual activity levels are the same, according to a 2017 study published in the Health Psychology journal.

People who believed they weren’t as active as their peers were 71% more likely to die during the study’s follow-up period than people who believed they led a more active lifestyle, the study titled ‘Perceived Physical Activity and Mortality: Evidence From Three Nationally Representative U.S. Samples’ revealed.

This result was the same even after controlling actual amounts of activity, and taking into account chronic illnesses, age and other demographic and health factors, such as smoking.

Stanford University, United States, researchers Octavia Zahrt and Alia Crum analysed data from three nationally representative samples with a total sample size of 61,141 American adults.

The participants were surveyed between 1990 and 2006, and mortality data on all participants were collected in 2011.

Think active to be active

Interestingly, participants’ perceptions about physical activity did not closely mirror their actual activity levels.

“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.

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Your perception of how active you are may not actually reflect your activity. For example, if you hang out with really fit people all the time, you might think you are relatively inactive in comparison, even though your amount of exercise is sufficient.

“For example, if you live in an area where most of your peers are really fit, you might perceive yourself as relatively inactive, even though your exercise may be sufficient.

“Or if you believe that only running or working out at the gym counts as real exercise, you may overlook the exercise you are getting at work or at home cleaning and carrying kids around,” Zahrt was quoted as saying in an interview with the American Psychology Association.

A decade earlier, another study called ‘Mind-Set Matters: Exercise and the Placebo Effect’ tested whether the relationship between exercise and health is moderated by one’s mindset.

Eighty-four female room attendants working in seven different hotels were measured on physiological health variables affected by exercise.

Those in the informed group were told that the work they do (cleaning hotel rooms) is good exercise. Examples of how their work was exercise were provided.

Subjects in the control group were not given this information.

Although actual behaviour did not change, four weeks after the intervention, the informed group perceived themselves to be getting significantly more exercise than before.

As a result, compared with the control group, they showed a decrease in weight, blood pressure, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio and body mass index.

These results, published in the Psychological Science journal, support the hypothesis that exercise affects health in part or in whole via the placebo effect.

Exercise does add to your average life expectancy, but these studies suggest that perceptions of exercise make a difference too.

Think negative for negative results

Many of us know how to train the body to achieve results, but we don’t give a lot of attention to how to train the mind to support exercise success.

Sports psychologist, Gary Mack, in his book Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence explores the mindset that is necessary to build “mental muscle”, just like building “physical muscle”.

Working with hundreds of professional athletes, Mack has observed that one key to achieving success “is to learn how to focus on the task and not let negative thoughts intrude”.

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A study found that hotel room attendants who were told how much exercise they were getting during their daily work showed a decrease in weight, blood pressure, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio and body mass index, even though they did not change their behaviour.

Exercise comes naturally to some people, while others deem it a waste of time.

Negative attitudes and lack of motivation keeps many people in their seats.

If you are physically able, but think that exercise is too difficult, embarrassing, painful, exhausting or too time-consuming, then you’re negative.

If you have a positive mindset, then you’re likely to think that exercise helps keep you healthy and fit.

One explanation involves the opposite of the placebo effect.

It’s long been established that beliefs about the strength of a painkiller, for example, can influence its effectiveness in the body.

The opposite is the nocebo effect, where if you have negative expectations, the physiological effect of a treatment is reduced.

So if you’re pretty active, but don’t think you are, without realising it, you’re missing out on some of exercise’s benefits.

So we need to work on creating a positive mindset or change our perceptions to reap the full benefits of exercise.

When people perceive that they are doing worse than their peers, they become depressed, fearful and less active. These experiences can worsen health.

Bombarded by health messages and seeing everyone exercising all the time, might cause unnecessary worry and this kind of chronic stress can also lead to poor health.

Instead, even if you’re not active, portray an image of yourself as an athletic person and this will encourage you to do even more exercise to fit in with this image.

A friend of mine (non-exerciser, but a mall walker) loves shopping for sports attire and every time I ask her if she has started some form of exercise, she’ll answer no.

Just dressing up to look sporty and feeling as if she’s active gives her a boost.

By changing your mindset to become more positive and less critical, you hold the power to improve your health and fitness.

Remember, if you don’t have an exercise regimen mapped out for 2019, don’t fret. Ditch the resolutions and just think that you’re an active person.

If you think AND have a workout routine to follow, then the benefits are doubled.

On that note, here’s wishing all readers a Happy New Year!

Revathi Murugappan is a certified fitness trainer who tries to battle gravity and continues to dance to express herself artistically and nourish her soul.


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