Do you think of vacuuming, bringing in groceries, gardening, remodeling the bathroom and painting the nursery as exercise?
If not, it’s time to start.
The influence your mindset has on your weight, overall health and wellbeing is surprisingly powerful.
Turns out exercise affects health to some extent by means of something called the placebo effect. Similar to how sick people often feel better if they’re told they’re taking medicine, even if what they’re really taking is a sugar pill, just thinking your daily activities count as exercise can trigger real physiological effects, like weight loss and lowered blood pressure.
A 2007 study of 84 female housekeepers working in seven hotels found that those who were informed that the daily tasks they perform constitute exercise and satisfy the Surgeon General’s recommendations (that all adults get at least 30 minutes of daily physical activity) saw greater health benefits than the control group. Control group subjects were not told that their duties qualified as exercise. In four weeks, the informed group, compared with the control group, lowered their weight, blood pressure, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) and body mass index (BMI).
Housekeepers who participated in the study didn’t report an increase in exercise outside work or in their workload throughout the study. The subjects didn’t change their eating or drinking habits either.
In other words, the only thing they changed was their mindfulness about their daily activities.
Art Markman, Ph.D., professor in the Psychology Department at the University of Texas at Austin, and YouBeauty Psychology Advisor, says being mindful of everyday activities helps improve health and wellbeing in many ways. In addition to the placebo effect, you can also purposefully add extra calorie-burning movement into your day.
“One thing that can be quite useful is to think about ways to increase the number of calories you burn during regular activities and to add a little fitness to them. For example, parking far away from stores in a parking lot, walking the stairs and carrying bags from the checkout line to the car are all ways of getting a little exercise in a daily routine,” he says.
Dr. Markman says noticing our habits and looking for ways to make them healthier will increase mindfulness.
“About 90 percent of our actions each day are mindless. Often, we get in habits that minimize the amount of energy we use. That can be a problem when you're trying to lose weight and become fit,” he says.
In addition to having a physiological impact on health, research supports evidence that the placebo effect plays a part in inducing the psychological benefits of exercise.
In the ‘90s, researchers experimented with 48 young, healthy adults who took part in a 10-week exercise program. Half of the participants were told the program would improve their psychological wellbeing (measured as self-esteem), while the other half received no information. Both groups’ fitness levels improved, but the informed group participants had significantly higher self-esteem at the end of the program.
You can use all of this to your advantage. Start perceiving your daily activities—walking the dog, cleaning the bathtub, trimming the hedges—as real, calorie-burning exercise that will improve your body and your mind, and it just might happen.
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