In a fitness-crazed land of spin classes and CrossFit gyms, Octavia Zahrt found it can be tough to feel as though you’re doing enough. “When I was in school in London, I felt really good about my activity. Then I moved to Stanford, and everyone around me seems to be so active and going to the gym every day,” she says. “In the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s like 75 percent of people walk around here wearing exercise clothes all day, every day, all the time, and just looking really fit.”
She wasn’t less active than when she lived in London, Zahrt says, but in comparison she began to feel a bit like a slacker. “I felt unhealthy. I was very stressed about fitting in more exercise,” she says.
And just feeling less fit in comparison to others might trim away years of life, says Zahrt, a Ph.D. candidate in health psychology at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business. That’s the conclusion of a study she co-authored, published Thursday in Health Psychology.
Past studies have suggested that mindsets concerning one’s own health can have physiological consequences. In 2007, Stanford psychologist Alia Crum ran a study on hotel attendants. “These women were getting lots of exercise, but when we asked them they didn’t have the mindset that their work was good exercise,” Crum says.