Exercise doesn’t have any effect unless you know you’re doing it

Hotel maids began losing weight once they were informed that their normal job activities counted as exercise. I can't want for somebody to test whether this placebo effect works in reverse; that is, whether you will lose weight if you aren't actually exercising but believe that you are. If it works, then sign me up! (Oh rats, they addressed this in the interview.)

Comments (16)
  1. Leo Davidson says:

    Sounds worth a try. I’m going to convince myself that typing is exercise. I just burnt 1,000 calories typing this reply alone. BEEFCAKE!

    …mmm cake.

  2. Caliban Darklock says:

    My mind immediately jumps to those electric abdominal belts. Some people get great results from them. Other people get nothing. I’ve noticed a strong correlation with believing they work, and experiencing results; Steve Oedekirk, for example, used the abdominal belt exclusively to get himself "in shape" for the movie "Kung Pow: Enter the Fist". A neighbor, however, wore the thing at work on the highest setting for weeks… with no result. He didn’t believe it would work.

    Of course, anecdotal evidence isn’t really evidence. But I’m still rather of the opinion that it’s SOMETHING.

  3. Will says:

    The mind is a wonderous thing.  I read an article about all the amazing aids a man can order to increase the size of his manhood and how most don’t work.  I knew better.  If the men really KNEW that the aids worked then the aids would work, but if the men had doubts then the aids would be at best interesting "toys."  I KNEW that the devices would work so I ordered several and they did.  In fact they worked so well that I no longer need a chair.  All I need do is tuck and point my browser to an (in)appropriate web site and the seating ploblem is soon solved.  I keep ruining pants though.

  4. Mark Steward says:

    There are also studies suggesting your can get stronger through thought alone.


  5. Keff says:

    Mark: It is already used as a part of physiotherapy, for example, physiotherapeutists train mentally with patients paralyzed after car accidents, and mental training (patient is imagining that he is moving the limb, and trying hard to control it) really does make a difference (objectively decreases time to restore sensitivity in damaged limbs).

  6. Dr. Pill says:

    Placebos are wonderful things. For some diseases it is known that placebos are better than active medication – but don’t count on it.

    For most diseases the physicians intervention is only marginally better than no intervention or placebo treatment. One of the reasons for this is that medical researchers tend to confuse statistical significance with biological significance (the former meaning that the effect is merely different from zero; the latter meaning that there is some genuine biological meaningful improvement).

    Another point to make is that in animals  placebo treatments (homeopathy and the like) often work wonderful as well – even better than in humans. The reason for this is that complementary measures (diet, rest) can better be imposed on domestic animals than humans.

  7. Sam says:

    A friend of mine signed into a fitness spa. She was there a lot, talked to people, gossiped. What she did not do, at least never when I watched, was exercises.

    She might sit on a training bike, chat to the person sitting on the next one, but she did not ride.

    Still, she lost weight and got into better shape. It was absolutely incredible.

    Anyway, she is the only person I know who managed to pull of this trick.

  8. 0x400000 says:

    I often think of lifting dumbells, the thought of it alone is really tiring.

  9. Drak says:

    I guess the feeling that you are doing something ‘good’ for your body makes you happier, which is good for the body.

  10. Morten says:

    The iatrotherapeutic effect is nothing to sneeze at (sorry…). The mere presence of a doctor or other caregiver can be treatment enough. It’s like a person-placebo – "the doctor’s here so now I will get better" kinda thing. Very interesting. Could be the actual effect in play behind many alternative therapies (my experience – not researched properly).

  11. I'm not a doctor says:

    Does a man in a white coat with a stethoscope do the trick?

  12. Simon Richard Clarkstone says:

    Weight loss is a good area for the placebo affect, because it is difficult by design not by necessity.  (Unlike most other diseases.)

    Humans are designed to gain weight when possible.  This would imply that losing weight easily is not difficult to implement, but is an evolutionary disadvantage.  The usual messiness of evolution could plausibly give individuals some way to make themselves use more energy than necessary while living, thus losing weight.

    The mandatory car analogy: one can much more easily increase a car’s fuel consumption than (say) repair axle damage, or increase its top speed.  You just need to screw with the engine computer’s program.

  13. Physical jobs are good excercise: I dropped a belt notch or so in a few weeks when I took a break from programming to be the assistant manager for a new café that started up in my local shopping centre.

    Being a fast order chef is actually very hard work: lots of things to carry back and forth, lots of running around behind the counter frantically cooking things, lots of cleaning before leaving at the end of the day.  Rigid meal breaks would have been a contributing factor: no time for in between meals coffee and snacks, just water grabbed on the run.

    I suspect the maids simply dropped their failed excercise plans and worked more enthusiastically.  Nothing magic here.

  14. Andy says:

    I watched an interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was in his body building hey day and he recommended that you never exercise with headphones on or in front of a TV etc. because he had found in his personal experience that forcing your mind to concentrate on the exercise and experience it in a conscious fashion produced much better results than doing the same exercise routine but having your mind elsewhere. I have found this to be very true in my own workouts as well. I see much better results when I actively concentrate on the effort yet I don’t think I am doing anything different than when I exercise with music on. The mind is a strange thing.

    Now if only I could teach mine to keep me in shape without doing any exercise, now that would be the best trick of all.

  15. old fart says:

    Opening a can of beer and lifting it with my arm a couple of times is enough excersize for me.

  16. Stephen Jones says:

    Of course the researcher didn’t bother to check on the eating habits of the two groups.

    The explanation is really simple. The group that was informed they were doing exercise lost learned helplessness regarding weight control, decided losing weight was a real option, and ate less. Elementary my dear Watson.

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