By guest blogger Tomasz Witkowski
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), physical inactivity is the fourth-leading risk factor for global mortality, causing an estimated 3.2 million deaths around the world annually. Readers of this blog need no convincing that it’s important to be active every day. But is spending more time on it enough to reduce the risk of early death? Not necessarily. How we perceive this activity turns out to be just as important. We learn of this from the authors of an intriguing study in Health Psychology devoted to physical activity and mortality.
Octavia Zahrt and Alia Crum at Stanford University were inspired by an earlier experiment involving hotel room attendants who completed a 20-minute intervention informing them that their daily work satisfied exercise recommendations and highlighting the benefits of this active lifestyle. This intervention not only shifted room attendants’ perceptions, but also resulted in health improvements including lower blood pressure and reductions in weight and body fat.
Zahrt and Crum examined data from 61,141 Americans (selected to be representative of the general population) to determine whether the way we think about our own physical activity could be of major and long-term significance for health. The data came from the US National Health Interview Survey and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which included questions assessing how much exercise individuals think they get compared with their peers. The surveys also asked respondents detailed questions about actual physical activity they had undertaken, and in some cases participants wore an accelerometer to measure their activity objectively. The researchers cross-checked these survey data against the National Death Index records as they stood 21 years after the exercise surveys had been completed.