Positive thinking about fitness slashes risk of early death

24 July 2017

Positive thinking can bring about a whole load of change.

Any readers of Rhonda Byrne's cult book The Secret will know that positive thinking can bring about a whole load of change.

And now scientists appear to have backed this notion up, discovering that people who think of themselves as healthy and active cut their risk of early death.

Scientists from America’s Stanford University found participants who believed they weren’t as active as their peers were a whopping 71 per cent more likely to die during the study’s follow-up period.

Led by Octavia Zahrt, Ph.D. and Dr. Alia Crum, researchers studied three nationally representative samples, which comprised of data from more than 60,000 American adults gathered from 1990 to 2006.

Read more: Trick yourself into enjoying exercise

Participants were questioned on their level of activity, with people in one survey even wearing a device that measured activity. The subjects also had to answer questions on their perceived levels of physical activity.

Demographic data including gender, age and access to medical care was also recorded.

It was found that participants’ perception of keeping fit often did not match up with their actual activity levels.

The team then viewed death records from 2011 and determined that people who thought of themselves as less active than others were up to 71 per cent more likely to die during the follow-up period than people who thought they were more active than their peers.

“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,” Dr. Crum commented.

Read more: Just 15 minutes of exercise may boost life span

The results have been published in journal Health Psychology, with the authors suggesting the placebo effect could be the reason behind their findings.

“Following this logic, someone who does not believe that she is exercising enough may get fewer physiological benefits from the activity than someone who believes she is exercising enough,” Dr. Crum continued. “Placebo effects are very robust in medicine, it is only logical to expect that they would play a role in shaping the benefits of behavioural health as well.”

She adds that health can worsen in people who perceive they are doing worse than their peers, which can lead to depression, feeling fearful and less physical activity.

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