People who view themselves as less healthy are at greater risk of suffering a premature death no matter how active they really are, new research says.
The study, conducted by Stanford University, and published in Health Psychology, shows how thoughts, feelings and beliefs have an impact on health.
As such, the experts say we should prioritise positive feelings just as much as working out.
“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,” co-author Dr Alia Crum said.
Researchers analysed surveys from more than 60,000 U.S. adults that documented participants’ levels of physical activity, health and personal background, and in one of the samples, participants wore an accelerometer to measure their activity over a one-week period.
Each person was then asked the same question: “Would you say that you are physically more active, less active, or about as active as other persons your age?”
Researchers also viewed death records from 2011, which was 21 years after the first survey was conducted.
The results found that people who saw themselves as less active than others were 71 per cent more likely to pass away in the follow-up period than people who thought they were more active than their peers.
This isn’t the first time Dr Crum has worked to prove the connection between positive thinking and lifespan though, with research dating back to 2007 showing that the health benefits people get out of everyday activities depend in part on their mindsets.
In the study, a group of workers at a hotel were told that the activity they got at work met recommended levels of physical activity. And, while most of the workers previously saw themselves as inactive the shift in mindset meant workers experiences reductions in weight, body fat and blood pressure.
“So much effort, notably in public health campaigns, is geared toward motivating people to change their behaviour: eat healthier, exercise more and stress less,” Dr Crum said.
“But an important variable is being left out of the equation: people's mindsets about those healthy behaviours.
“It's time that we start taking the role of mindsets in health more seriously.”
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