It’s really quite fascinating how powerful effects of perception can affect our lives.
There was a study released last week by Stanford that revealed that how people view their fitness program has a material effect on their longevity. That is, if you think you have a good program, or you feel that your work is keeping you in good shape, the powerful effects of perception manifest physiologically. Mindset became a powerful variable. This is the placebo effect writ large.
In the study, researchers analyzed surveys from more than 60,000 U.S. adults. The surveys documented a number of variables, including their levels of physical activity. But the key question researchers were interested in was: “Would you say that you are physically more active, less active, or about as active as other persons your age?” It turns out that the answer to that question could be linked to an individual’s risk of premature death, regardless of their actual level of physical activity: researchers found that people who perceived themselves as less active than their peers were up to 71 percent more likely to die than those who believed they were more active than others.
Why is that?
The powerful effects of perception
Researchers offered some possible explanations for why our perspective can trump how physically active a person may be. One is that the powerful effects of perception can be positive and negative when it comes to motivation. If a person is made aware that they exercise adequately, then they can continue and build on that activity. However, those who view themselves as couch potatoes are more likely to continue their inactive lifestyles.
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One of the study’s authors, Alia Crum, noted that there’s a lot of emphasis placed on urging people to alter their behavior – from exercising more and eating healthier – so that they can lead healthier lifestyles. But a simple step toward better health could be to simply shift how we view our everyday activities, such as cleaning the house or opting to take the stairs instead of the elevator. It’s not exercising at the gym, but it’s still physical activity.
Our mindsets are a powerful thing.
We find this study particularly fascinating as it confirms something we have been observing: that people who feel they are engaged, who feel they are going to live a long useful life, behave in ways to make that actually happen. The converse is that if a person doesn’t feel they have a positive future ahead of them, they will behave in ways to confirm that belief and not take such good care of themselves. This is not exactly the argument that Stanford is making here, but it is corollary enough that it caught our attention.