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14 February 2007
Think That Weight Off!

Researchers from Harvard University, writing in Psychological Science, offer the intriguing possibility that mind-set may influence how effective exercise routines are. In the article, Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer contends that many of the beneficial results of exercise are simply due to the placebo effect.

Langer's study looked at hotel housekeepers, who on average, clean 15 rooms per day, each taking 20 to 30 minutes to complete. Langer says that while the housekeepers might not perceive their job as exercise, if their mind-set is shifted so that they believe it to be exercise, then health improvements might follow.

The researchers studied 84 female housekeepers from seven hotels, where half of them were told that their regular work was enough exercise to meet the requirements for good health, while the other half were told nothing. Langer wanted to determine if the subjects' mind-set (in this case, their perceived levels of exercise) could inhibit or enhance the health benefits of exercise independent of any actual exercise.

Four weeks later, the researchers assessed any changes in the women's health, and, astonishingly, found that the women in the informed group had lost an average of 2 pounds, lowered their blood pressure by almost 10 percent, and were significantly healthier as measured by body-fat percentage, body mass index, and waist-to-hip ratio.

The changes in the informed group were significantly higher than those reported in the control group and were especially remarkable given the time period of only four weeks. "Whether the change in physiological health was brought about directly or indirectly, it is clear that health is significantly affected by mind-set," said Langer.

Source: Association for Psychological Science


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