Reap the benefits from working out without working out?
When it comes to our fitness level, our very perception of how fit we are might factor into how long we live more than we thought was possible.
At least that’s what researchers from Stanford University found in a 2017 study about fitness, perceptions of fitness and longevity.
What? So you mean as long as I think I’m fit, I’ll live longer?
Well, sort of.
The study looked at the mortality data of 61,000 people over the course of 21 years.
It tracked how much people exercised, as well as how much they thought they exercised compared to other people their age.
Some died over the course of these two decades as the study was unfolding.
People who didn’t think they were doing enough exercise died at a younger age than those who thought they did more exercise and were more fit than their peers
Even when the amount each group reported they exercised was identical.
This was true even when factors, such as smoking and other health status markers, were taken into account.
As this BBC story explained, one of the study’s authors Octavia Zahrt said that the impetus for her research came from personal experience.
When Zahrt moved to California from London, it seemed everyone around her was more fit than her.
This got her wondering how much her mindset and attitude toward her fitness level affected her health.
Her instincts were correct: The study found mortality risk is 71 percent higher for those who don’t think they’re as fit and don’t exercise, as much as others their age.
Three potential reasons to explain this phenomenon, researchers say, include:
We feel stressed that we’re not working out enough, and this chronic stress damages our long-term health.
Other research shows if you think you’re less fit than those around you, you’re less likely to take the steps to become more active.
As we know, the placebo effect is powerful, and can influence the body—not just psychologically, but even physiologically.
In this case, it’s kind of like reverse placebo:
People who don’t think they’re doing as much as others, or enough to keep them healthy, bring on poorer health for themselves and ultimately die younger than those who believe they’re fit.
Of course, this is just one study, and there are countless others that stress the importance of actually working out to improve health and longevity, so it’s probably safer to employ both methods.