We hear a lot about what healthy people do — they exercise, eat right, sleep enough, etc. And what they don't do — smoke or allow stress to rule their lives, for example. But according to science, being healthy doesn’t just depend on your behavior, it depends on your attitude as well.

A recent study published in Health Education and Behavior looked at both the behavior and beliefs of more than 8,000 adults. It examined whether they maintained a flab-fighting lifestyle by eating fruits and veggies, engaging in exercise, and avoiding calorie-laden ready meals, as well as their attitude towards their weight. The analysis turned up a tight correlation between a person's thinking about his health and his actual health status.

Grit, not genes

“If an individual believes weight to be outside of the influence of diet and exercise, she or he may engage in more behaviors that are rewarding in the short term, such as eating unhealthful foods and avoiding exercise, rather than healthful behaviors with more long-term benefits for weight management,” study authors Dr. Mike C. Parent and Dr. Jessica L. Alquist write.

In other words, if you think you're stuck with your flabby body thanks to your genes, you're less likely to make an effort to stay healthy.

On one level this isn't a particularly surprising result — people generally give up on hopeless causes, after all — but looked at another way it's quite interesting. The findings echo research in other areas about the benefits of a so-called growth mindset.

Successful people, other research has found, aren't necessarily born with incredible talent. What they do share is a belief that hard word makes a difference. “It’s all about your mindset. Successful people tend to focus on growth, solving problems, and self-improvement, while unsuccessful people think of their abilities as fixed assets and avoid challenges,” one writeup of this research — spearheaded by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck — said summing up the findings.

Apparently, what's true of career success is true of success in the realm of fitness as well. Believing individual will and action can make a difference is the key to having the grit and determination to carry on with the (sometimes less than fun) behaviors that will get you the results you want. Being fatalistic is fatal to progress in both arenas.

The takeaway then is simple. The first step to improving your life is believing it really is within your power to change things. Need help convincing yourself? Here's a breakdown of how to get yourself the right mindset for success.

Published on: Oct 1, 2015
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