How mindset impacts health?

Mind-set Matters: Exercise and the Placebo Effect


In a study testing whether the relationship between exercise and health is moderated by one’s mindset, 84 female room attendants working in seven different hotels were measured on physiological health variables affected by exercise. Those in the informed condition were told that the work they do is good exercise and satisfies the Surgeon General’s recommendations for an active lifestyle. Examples of how their work was exercise were provided. Subjects in the control group were not given this information. Although actual behavior did not change, 4 weeks after the intervention, the informed group perceived themselves to be getting significantly more exercise than before. As a result, compared with the control group, they showed a decrease in weight, blood pressure, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio, and body mass index. These results support the hypothesis that exercise affects health in part or in whole via the placebo effect.


The placebo effect is any effect that is not attributed to an actual pharmaceutical drug or remedy but rather is attributed to the individual’s mindset. This study extends the concept of the placebo effect to the realm of physical exercise and health. It examines how the perception of being physically active, regardless of the actual level of physical exertion, can influence health outcomes such as body weight and blood pressure.

The Placebo Effect Beyond Medicine

The placebo effect extends beyond the domain of medical treatments and can manifest in response to various stimuli that affect an individual’s psychological state. Instances of placebo responses include reactions to perceived threats or non-threatening stimuli that nonetheless elicit real physiological responses.

Exercise and Health

With the shift from infectious to chronic health threats, lifestyle behaviors such as exercise have become key prescriptions for health management. This study posits that the benefits of exercise may be mediated, at least in part, by the placebo effect, where one’s mindset plays a critical role.

Evidence of Mindset in Exercise

Previous studies have hinted at the potential role of the placebo effect in the psychological benefits associated with exercise. The study explores whether perceived physical activity and beliefs about one’s health can have physiological effects similar to those of actual physical activity.

Health Perceptions and Actual Health

There is a significant correlation between how individuals perceive their health and their actual health outcomes. This relationship suggests that individuals' perceptions can have a profound impact on their physical health and wellbeing.

Perception of Exercise and Health Outcomes

Many studies linking exercise to health benefits rely on self-reported data, which reflects perceived levels of physical activity rather than objective measures. This raises the question of whether some health benefits attributed to physical activity are actually due to the perception of being active.

The Current Study

This research aims to investigate the role of mindset in the health benefits of exercise, hypothesizing that a change in the perception of being physically active, without a change in actual activity level, could lead to improved health outcomes.


The study employed a randomized controlled design involving female room attendants from seven different hotels. They were assessed on various physiological health indicators such as weight, blood pressure, body fat, and waist-to-hip ratio. The intervention involved informing one group (informed condition) about the health benefits of their physical work activities while the control group received no such information. Measures were taken before and four weeks after the intervention to evaluate changes in health outcomes and perceptions of exercise.


Post-intervention, the informed group reported a perceived increase in the amount of exercise they were getting, despite no actual change in behavior. Physiologically, this group showed significant improvements in several health markers, including reductions in weight and blood pressure, compared to the control group. These changes were attributed to the altered mindset rather than any actual increase in physical activity.


The study concludes that mindset plays a significant role in mediating the health benefits associated with exercise. The perceived increase in exercise, even without a change in actual physical activity, led to improved health metrics, supporting the hypothesis that the health benefits of exercise may be influenced in part by the placebo effect. This suggests a potential avenue for health improvement strategies that focus on altering perceptions and mindsets towards physical activity.

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