As we know, hotel maids spend most of their day lugging heavy equipment in and out of bedrooms and up and down hallways. In fact, every aspect of their job is physically demanding.
But here’s the thing. Most of these women don’t consider themselves to be physically fit. In fact 67% of a group of hotel maids in a recent study by Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer claimed to do no exercise – even though their working day seemed to be one long workout.
So Langer devised an experiment to test if the hotel maids ‘perception’ of how much exercise they were getting had an effect on their actual weight.
Langer’s team measured the maids’ body fat, waist-to-hip ratio, blood pressure, weight and body mass index. They found that all of these indicators matched the maids’ perceived lack of exercise, rather than their actual amount of exercise. And then Langer set about changing perceptions. She divided them into two groups. To one group she explained how many calories were burned off with each task they performed at work. They were also told that this activity met the US Surgeon General’s definition of an active lifestyle. The other group was given no information at all. Just told to get on with the job. That’s the hotel business for you.
A month later, the researchers returned to take physical measurements of the women and low and behold, in the group that had been ‘educated’ about their physical activity, there was a decrease in their systolic blood pressure, weight, and waist-to-hip ratio – and a 10% drop in blood pressure. How come? Well, one possible explanation was that the process of learning about exercise and its effect had somehow changed the maids’ routines. However, a post study survey revealed that none of the maids had changed their routines in any way. So the change in their physical appearance could only have come from the change in the women’s mindset.
According to Langer, if you believe that you’re exercising, then your body may respond as if it is.
Essentially, it’s a placebo effect. Just like when people believe that their medication is making them better when actually all they’re taking is a sugar pill. So, in theory, if you believe with great conviction, you might be able to sit around all day eating chocolate and still lose weight.
Great news for anyone who likes the idea of keeping fit but isn’t too keen on exercise. Think a hundred or so push-ups and the pounds will drop off. Do it from the comfort of your couch whilst eating a TV dinner and see for yourself.
Okay, so maybe it’s not that dramatic, but Langer’s study of hotel maids does have some thought provoking results.
I’ve already started my own study and it’s absolutely delicious…