Experts say there is no easy way to lose weight or improve your fitness level. Yeah okay; we all know the routine: Eat right and get plenty of physical activity. Kudos to you who love to go to the gym—but you probably won’t find me there. Different strokes for different folks. I like to exercise to home videos, or go outside for a brisk walk then finish with some strengthening moves. Whatever way we get the job done. But here’s something I haven’t paid enough attention to—UNTIL NOW. Did you know that aside from your daily planned workout, you can also reap some real exercise benefits by simply regarding your household tasks as “exercise” too?
If you don’t already do that, you might want to reconsider.
The placebo effect is an outcome that has nothing to do with an actual drug or remedy but rather, to the therapeutic effect of your own beliefs and expectations. A review of the research in this area shows that the mind-body connection is no fairy tale. Placebo studies that involved depression drugs have produced impressive results, but the mind-body connection has also been explored in other ways. It has been effective—not as a cure—but as a powerful way to address pain, insomnia, stress, and even to counteract the side effects of cancer treatments; like nausea and fatigue. As it turns out, our mind is not only capable of producing positive effects on our health, but negative expectations can also produce negative results, which scientists call the “nocebo” effect. For example; older persons who perceive their health as “poor” were 6x more likely to die than those who regarded their health as “excellent”; regardless of actual health status. In another study, participants who were exposed to fake poison ivy (but believed it was real) developed actual poison ivy rashes. Likewise, subjects who were told they were drinking caffeine (but really weren’t) produced increased motor performance and heart rates, similar to what would be seen with the effects of caffeine.
But how can all of this make me lose weight?
A study out of Harvard revealed that when it comes to getting exercise, your mind-set can influence how many calories you burn, how much body fat you lose, and how fast your waist will whittle down—by simply being aware that your daily activities ALSO burn calories, and believing that these activities, too, are “exercise”. Think of the possibilities: We make the bed every day, go up and down the stairs in our home or workplace, vacuum and wash the floors, clean bathrooms, dust furniture, till the garden, shovel snow, repaint the backyard fence, mow the lawn, sweep the driveway and push a grocery cart for at least 30 minutes twice a week. These are just routine tasks, but when perceived as exercise, they may actually help you get fit—without doing anything else beyond what you are already doing.
The researchers in the Harvard study randomly assigned hotel room attendants from 7 hotels to the “informed” or control group. Hotel attendants clean on average 15 rooms a day, which takes about 20 minutes each to complete. They are bending, lifting, pushing vacuums and carts, carrying supplies, etc. Those in the informed condition received information on the benefits of exercise, and were informed that their daily work satisfied the Surgeon General’s statement that all adults should get 30 minutes of exercise each day. They were given specific information about the benefits of exercise and the calorie expenditure of each of the tasks they performed in their job. This group was also told that their daily housekeeping work satisfied the recommended prescription for daily exercise. Subjects in the control group received the same information about the benefits of exercise, but were not told that their work tasks fulfilled the requirement for daily exercise. There were no other significant changes to the housekeepers’ diet, or other aspects of their lifestyle.
The results were fascinating. After just 4 weeks, the informed group’s blood pressure was lower, they lost weight, their BMI went down, and so did their waist-to-hip ratio. No such changes occurred among the participants in the control group. In other words, increasing one’s “perceived” exercise—independent of actual exercise—resulted in measured physiological benefits.
The implications of this study go far beyond exercise benefits. Think of how many ways your positive expectations might create other meaningful changes in your life. Imagine how you might benefit by training yourself to habitually expect the best; not dread the worst.
Placebo or not—Sign me up for a lifetime prescription!
Comment below: What are some ways you could expect more positive results from some aspect of your life? Would love to hear your thoughts on this.
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Crum, Alia J., & Langer, Ellen J., (2007). Mind-Set Matters: Exercise and the placebo effect. Psychological Science.Vol 18(2) Pp165-171.
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