The effects of comparing your physical activity with that of your friends

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If you have already failed in your New Year’s purpose to exercise, try not to focus on all the routines you should have done.

New research reveals a surprising connection between people’s beliefs and their health: by being too negative about their physical activity, some may “think they are not in shape”.

Scientists at Stanford University, in the United States, analyzed mortality data of 61,000 adults.

For 21 years , they measured the number of people who exercised and, above all, the amount of exercise they thought they did compared to other individuals their age.

By analyzing the factors that could have contributed to the health of the participants, the researchers found that people who thought they were not doing as much exercise as their colleagues died younger than those who thought they were doing more, even when the actual amount of exercise what they did was the same.

These results were maintained even when the scientists considered factors such as smoking.

Man in a runner.
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Image caption Do you go to the gym but feel you are not exercising enough?

Exercise, of course, increases life expectancy, but this study suggests that perceptions about one’s exercise also make a difference.

The author of the research, Octavia Zahrt, of Stanford University, found that the risk of mortality was up to 71% higher for people perceived to be less active than their peers, compared to those who thought they exercised more. That the others.

What is this about?

“Nocebo” effect

The first possible reason why our perceptions of exercise could affect our health is simply that we feel stressed if we think we are not active enough .

Being bombarded with messages about health and seeing everyone exercising all the time can make us worry a lot and this type of chronic stress could damage our health.

 
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But it could also be due to motivation. Perhaps if you already think you are active, your image of yourself as an athletic person encourages you to do even more exercise to fit in with this image.

This idea is supported by a 2015 investigation that showed the opposite: if you think you are less fit than your friends, you are more likely to be discouraged and have completely stopped exercising a year later.

Woman making plates.
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Image caption Instead of comparing your activity with that of other people, it may be better to ask a specialist what amount of exercise you need to do.

A third explanation implies the opposite of the placebo effect: the “nocebo”.

If you have negative expectations, the physiological effect of a treatment is reduced.

Then, maybe people were, in fact, as active as their friends, but they did not notice and some of the benefits were lost.

I work as an exercise

For example, only with their daily work the hotel cleaners do a lot of exercise: they run through corridors, push heavy carts with towels, clean bathrooms, vacuum and change sheets.

But a 2007 study found that they did not count this as exercise.

Alia Crum, also of Stanford University, told half of the cleaners involved in the investigation how much exercise they did and why it benefited them.

Four weeks later, this group had lost weight and had lower blood pressure.

A woman holding a dumbbell.
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Image caption If our goals are too high, we may feel even more discouraged.

Once they saw work as an opportunity to exercise, it had a greater physical impact on them.

Maybe they started vacuuming with more energy or maybe it was a placebo effect.

Perceptions

Another study from 2003 shows that our perceptions of age are related to our health.

As part of a study by University College London (UCL) in the United Kingdom, 7,000 public officials were asked when they thought that old age began.

When Hannah Kuper and UCL professor Sir Michael Marmot analyzed the data, they found that people who thought that old age began at age 60 or younger were more likely to have serious heart problems than those who thought that old age came to life. 70 or more.

Person stretching with an inflatable ball.
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Image caption Perception of when old age begins may also influence health, according to a study.

We still do not have all the answers, but it is increasingly clear that our perceptions of our health and fitness are important.

I will make sure to assess the activity I do and at the same time. to avoid conversations about exercises with marathon friends.

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Rava Desk

Rava is an online news portal providing recent news, editorials, opinions and advice on day to day happenings in Pakistan.

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