Why Your Beliefs About Exercise Matter

We all know exercise is great for us. But did you know that your mindset about exercise can make a big difference in how it affects you?

Genetic Truths?

A recent study in the prestigious scientific research journal, Nature, showed that when people were told they have genes that predispose them to respond poorly to exercise, their bodies start to respond accordingly (even when they don’t have those genes).

On a treadmill test, these people got tired faster than they had before, and they also experienced a decrease in oxygen uptake and lung capacity. All from being told that they’re not cut out for exercise (which was actually false).

Hotel Fitness

In another well-regarded study from 2007, researchers recruited 84 hotel maids. At the start of the study, none of them knew that they were already meeting or exceeding the U.S. guidelines for exercise simply by doing their work each day. Sixty-seven percent of the maids told the researchers that they “didn’t get any exercise.”

The maids were put into two groups. The first group was told that just by doing their job, they burned a lot of calories and got more than enough exercise. The second group, the control group, didn’t get any information like this.

A month later, researchers were astonished to find that the first, informed group:

  • Lost an average of two pounds.
  • Lowered their percentage of body fat.
  • Lowered their systolic blood pressure by an average of 10 points.

This happened without doing additional exercise outside of work or changing their eating habits.

The second, control group didn’t experience any of these positive changes.

This incredible research shows that our beliefs and our awareness—our mindset—can have a significant impact on our bodies and our health.


One last example of the power of mindset is Arnold Schwarzenegger. He’s known for many things these days, but his persona and brand is rooted in fitness. He’s still regarded as one of the all-time greats in the sport of bodybuilding.

In his autobiography, Total Recall, one anecdote that I loved was that every time he did an exercise for a certain body part, he would command that working muscle to “Grow!” with each rep. 

Whether you have the same fitness goals as him or not doesn’t matter. The takeaway remains the same. His focus and intention to grow his body to accomplish his bodybuilding goals is a great example for using the power of the mind to create a desired result.


How we perceive what we’re doing, the words we use to talk about it, how we assign meaning to what we’re doing, and the intention behind it all matter.

  • People didn’t perform well on exercise tests because they believed they weren’t capable due to genetic limitation. 
  • Hotel maids lost weight solely because of the new belief that they were burning a ton of calories working. 
  • Arnold built his physique to become the best in the world because of intention.

Time for some deep analysis.

What stories have you been telling about yourself based off something external you heard? More importantly, how can you shift some of your thoughts to benefit your health now?

Here are some ideas:

  • Practice gratitude/appreciation for the physical activity you’re currently doing. 
  • Learn more about the benefits of the activities you do. For example, if you do yoga, read up on the research supporting its effects.
  • Set an intention for your health and/or fitness before you exercise or move your body. Keep this intention in mind throughout your session.

Expect Success,

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