Researchers Say You’re Exercising More Than You Think

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iStock

They say a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. If the thought of a thousand-mile journey makes you tired, we've got some great news for you: You've probably already completed one.* A new study published in the journal Health Psychology [PDF] finds that people underestimate the amount of exercise they're getting—and that this underestimation could be harmful.

Psychologists at Stanford University pulled data on 61,141 American adults from two huge studies conducted in the 1990s and the early 2000s: the National Health Interview Survey and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Participants answered questionnaires about their lifestyles, health, and exercise habits, and some wore accelerometers to track their movement. Everybody was asked one key question: "Would you say that you are physically more active, less active, or about as active as other persons your age?"

The researchers then tapped into the National Death Index through 2011 to find out which of the participants were still alive 10 to 20 years later.

Combining these three studies yielded two interesting facts. First, that many participants believed themselves to be less active than they actually were. Second, and more surprisingly, they found that people who rated themselves as "less active" were more likely to die—even when their actual activity rates told a different story. The reverse was also true: People who overestimated their exercise had lower mortality rates.

There are many reasons this could be the case. Depression and other mental illnesses can certainly influence both our self-perception and our overall health. The researchers attempted to control for this variable by checking participants' stress levels and asking if they'd seen a mental health professional in the last year. But not everybody who needs help can get it, and many people could have slipped through the cracks.

Paper authors Octavia Zahrt and Alia Crum have a different hypothesis. They say our beliefs about exercise could actually affect our risk of death. "Placebo effects are very robust in medicine," Crum said in a statement. "It is only logical to expect that they would play a role in shaping the benefits of behavioral health as well."

The data suggest that our ideas about exercise and exercise itself are two very different things. If all your friends are marathoners and mountain climbers, you might feel like a sloth—even if you regularly spend your lunch hour in yoga class.

Crum and Zahrt say we could all benefit from relaxing our definition of "exercise."

"Many people think that the only healthy physical activity is vigorous exercise in a gym or on a track," Zahrt told Mental Floss in an email. "They underestimate the importance of just walking to the store, taking the stairs, cleaning the house, or carrying the kids."
 
*The average American takes about 5000 steps per day, or roughly 2.5 miles. At that pace, it would take just a little over a year to walk 1000 miles.

Mental Floss's Three-Day Sale Includes Deals on Apple AirPods, Sony Wireless Headphones, and More

Apple
Apple

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Apple

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Sony

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Sony

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Jashen

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Evachill

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Gourmia

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Townew

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Noerden

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Prices subject to change.

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What the Color Codes on Toothpaste Tubes Really Mean

PeopleImages/iStock via Getty Images
PeopleImages/iStock via Getty Images

Packaging details—like the circles on chip bags and the symbols on cosmetics labels—can be mystifying to the average consumer. For years, a graphic has circulated the internet claiming to explain the hidden meaning behind the colored markings on the bottom of toothpaste tubes. While it's true that those color codes are there for a reason, the reason is much less interesting than the online rumors suggest.

According to Snopes, a widely-shared image on social media alleges that the colors on the seams of toothpaste tubes correlate to certain types of ingredients. The picture shows four different colored markings, with green meaning natural, blue indicating natural and medicine, red meaning natural and chemical composition, and black signifying pure chemical.

This "decoding" isn't based in truth, however. The markings on toothpaste packaging have nothing to do with the ingredients inside the tube—and even if they did, classifications like natural and chemical are too vague to mean anything. The real reason the colors are there is to aid the machinery responsible for putting the packaging together. The tiny colored rectangles are actually called eye marks or color marks, and they tell light beam sensors where a tube needs to be cut or folded. Once the toothpaste reaches the store, the markings no longer serve a purpose.

If you do want to know more about the ingredients in your toothpaste, it's not as hard as deciphering a mysterious code. "Oral care companies don’t mark their toothpastes with colored squares to try to trick consumers and hide ingredients from them," Colgate writes on its website. "If you want to know what kind of ingredients your toothpaste has, don’t look for a colored block at the end of the tube. Instead, take a look at the packaging for a comprehensive list of ingredients."

You can find the ingredients in your toothpaste listed on the outer box and/or the tube itself—and you don't need to know any secret codes to read them.

[h/t Snopes]