"Our findings fall in line with a growing body of research suggesting that our mindsets -- in this case, beliefs about how much exercise we are getting relative to others -- can play a crucial role in our health," said study co-author Alia Crum, an assistant professor of psychology at Stanford University.
"So much effort, notably in public health campaigns, is geared toward motivating people to change their behavior: eat healthier, exercise more and stress less," Crum said in a university news release. "But an important variable is being left out of the equation: people's mindsets about those healthy behaviors."
The study included more than 60,000 adults in the United States who were followed for 21 years. Those who believed they were less physically active than others in the same age group were up to 71 percent more likely to die during the follow-up period than those who believed that they were more active -- even if their actual activity levels were similar.
But the study did not prove that thinking one was less active caused early death risk to rise; it only showed an association.
The study was published July 20 in the journal Health Psychology.
The researchers said the findings show that along with being physically active, it's also important for people to feel good about activities they do every day, such as taking the stairs, walking or biking to work, or cleaning the house.
"It's time that we start taking the role of mindsets in health more seriously," Crum said. "In the pursuit of health and longevity, it is important to adopt not only healthy behaviors, but also healthy thoughts."More information
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute offers a guide to physical activity.
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