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Knowing you're doing physical exercise makes it healthier

The positive health effects of physical exercise increase if you are aware of the fact that you are exercising. British-American psychologist Alia Crum reported about this in 2007 in a study published in Psychological Science. Crum discovered that people who exercise a lot but don't know how healthy their lifestyle is develop lower blood pressure and lose weight when they learn about the positive effects of exercise.

Crum and her supervisor Ellen Langer, both working at the University of Harvard in 2007, studied 84 cleaners working in 7 hotels. Cleaning is physical work so cleaners get plenty of exercise. On a working day they are physically active for 5-7.5 hours. But cleaners generally do not see themselves as being active or having a particularly healthy lifestyle.

The researchers told the cleaners in 4 of the 7 hotels about the health benefits of physical exercise during a meeting [Informed]; the cleaners in the other 3 hotels were not told about the benefits [Control]. Crum and Langer measured the cleaners' physical condition before they gave the cleaners information on the health benefits and four weeks after they had done so.

The information altered the participants' perception. Many of them started to see their work as a form of physical exercise and to regard themselves as active people.

Knowing you're doing physical exercise makes it healthier

This change in perception had positive health effects. The participants lost over a kilogram in weight, their fat decreased by 1 percentage point, their waist measurement decreased and their systolic blood pressure went down.

Knowing you're doing physical exercise makes it healthier

As far as the researchers could tell, the participants' behaviour did not change. "The results of this study provide another example of the power of the placebo effect," the researchers wrote.

Crum recently published a study which shows that a mind set can also alter the health effects of physical exercise in a less positive way. According to that study physical exercise loses some of its positive health effects if people think that they are not doing much exercise.

Psychol Sci. 2007 Feb;18(2):165-71.

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