By the time you finish reading this, you may have lengthened your lifespan. How’s that for encouragement to read on?
Let’s start with this question: do you worry about your health? Most people are concerned about leading a healthy lifestyle. They want to feel well, be fit and look good.
As we get older we may worry about getting enough exercise. This is because, to put it bluntly, we don’t want to die – yet. An important motivation to do exercise is that we believe it to be crucial to longevity. Being human, once we decide on the right thing to do, we start worrying about not doing the right thing.
Worrying about exercise? Stop!
Do you worry that you don’t get enough exercise? Then stop it! Immediately if not sooner. (IINS online; I was pleased to see one of my pet phrases on an Internet Slang list.)
So if your aim is longevity, you need to stop fretting about getting enough exercise. Please note that you are not being advised to exercise more. The focus here is on the worry. The advice is to worry less about how much exercise you get.
There is now a pretty strong incentive to try and achieve this goal. Recent scientific research has shown that worrying, specifically about not exercising enough, can shorten your lifespan.
You probably guessed by now that My New Old Self is enthused about yet another study about longevity. This one was conducted last year at Stanford University in California.
“Most people know that not exercising enough is bad for your health, but most people do not know that thinking you are not exercising enough can also harm your health.”
– study co-author Octavia Zahrt, doctoral candidate at Stanford Graduate School of Business
This study showed that people who thought they were less active than others their age were more likely to die. It is important to note that this study was a Randomised Control Trial. Which means that other factors were taken into account. Even after controlling for actual amounts of activity, chronic illness, age and other demographic and health considerations, the research finding remained.
Another no-no: comparison
There is another issue to consider. Aside from the worrying, which is in itself not good for you, according to many studies. There is also the aspect of comparing yourself with others. If you want to live long, this is something else to stop doing.
The study revealed that people who believed they weren’t as active as their peers were 71 percent more likely to die (in the study’s follow-up period) than those who believed their lifestyle was more active.
“Astounding!” This is how the American Psychological Association, which published this research, described the increase in mortality risk from misguided efforts at keeping up with the Joneses at gym.
Don’t believe you’re a slacker
“Self-proclaimed slackers may be sabotaging own health”: that was the headline used by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in announcing this study’s findings. Note that it’s the self-proclaiming that is frowned on. Not the slacking off.
A seriously sturdy study
This study seems a seriously sturdy one, judging from my extensive experience in checking out what Studies Show. Particularly studies about longevity.
I’ve read other studies that seemed convincing – until I saw that only a small number of people were studied. This study, however, assessed data samples from three representative surveys of more than 61,000 Americans.
Another plus is that this was not a quick study. Participants were tracked for a period of over 21 years.
The researchers took pains to emphasise what lies at the heart of their findings: the good old placebo effect.
“The belief you’re getting a pain medication can activate endogenous opiates in the brain.”
Crum went on to explain that their study demonstrated that the same belief can operate in terms of getting exercise.
I can’t help but thinking back to that warning about exercise that I wrongly internalised decades ago. I had understood that it wasn’t worth exercising unless you did it for the minimum of 25 minutes said to be necessary for a proper cardiovascular workout. Sadly, this gave me an excuse not to start exercising if I wasn’t able to do it for that length of time.
Whereas this new study has made me feel liberated. I now know that short bursts of ordinary activities also count as exercise. More crucially, I believe it to be true. Clearly the take-out message here is that we should all become believers – in the idea that we are getting enough exercise in our daily lives.
As I promised you at the start, by the end of this column you could stand a chance of living longer. If you’re a believer, that is. If you believe that you are keeping healthy with whatever exercise you’re doing. Don’t compare your exercising with anyone else. Don’t be a Self-Proclaimed Slacker and live a long life!