posted by meowser
On Saturday, Living400LBS had an excellent post about the widespread prejudice that people who have physical-labor-intensive jobs are thought to be “not exercising at all” if they don’t go the gym or participate in some sort of leisure-time “workout.” Apparently, gardening is exercise if you do it yourself, but it’s not exercise for someone you’re paying to do it. Or, as Living400LBS so cogently put it, “By this measure, Marines in boot camp probably get ‘no physical activity whatsoever.’”
I could go on for the next six or seven weeks about the classism implicit in this assumption. But for once, I won’t. Because Stef, in comments on this post, mentioned that she had seen a study that claimed hotel housekeepers who were told that what they did for a living counted as exercise had better health indices than those who were told their jobs were not exercise. This was the first I’d recalled hearing of it. Later, on the same thread, ShannonCC provided a link. (The story is about 2 years old.)
Sure enough, the study was conducted by a Harvard psychologist named Ellen Langer, and here’s what it said:
She divided 84 maids into two groups. With one group, researchers carefully went through each of the tasks they did each day, explaining how many calories those tasks burned. They were informed that the activity already met the surgeon general’s definition of an active lifestyle.
The other group was given no information at all.
One month later, Langer and her team returned to take physical measurements of the women and were surprised by what they found. In the group that had been educated, there was a decrease in their systolic blood pressure, weight, and waist-to-hip ratio — and a 10 percent drop in blood pressure.
(ETA: Yes, I know they said “blood pressure” twice. So does every other account of the dozens I’ve read, which leads me to believe that this was how the press release phrased it.)
I can’t believe this is the first I’ve heard of this.
For that matter, I can’t believe this is the last I’ve heard of this.
(Aaaaand as it happens, it probably wasn’t: Mo Pie wrote about it here on Big Fat Deal. I can’t imagine I didn’t see it then; for whatever reason I must have been having a Bad Mirror Neuron Day and it just didn’t register with me.)
But anyhoodoovoodoogrisgrisgumboyaya (sorry, had to get that out of my system), the study did get some coverage in the New York Times magazine. Interesting pull-quote here:
Langer sees the study as a lesson in the importance of mindfulness, long a subject of her research, and which need not involve Buddhism or meditation, she stresses. “It’s about noticing new things; it’s about engagement,” she says.
Really? I’m all for meditation and mindfulness, but I could swear it’s really about not heaping tons of needless stress on people about what they’re supposedly not doing right.
Think about it. Remember the Roseto study, which examined people (most of them inarguably fat) in a small, close-knit community who despite having anything but “heart-healthy” habits lived longer than average, had less heart disease than average, and didn’t record a single heart attack for someone under 45 years old until 1971, when the community started breaking up? (And lest anyone think these folks have some sort of magic genes, the study also showed that when people moved away, the Roseto effect disappeared, and succeeding generations born outside of Roseto didn’t demonstrate it either.)
According to the study (which Sandy also wrote about on Junkfood Science), Rosetans experienced just as much routine stress as most Americans did, but one thing they didn’t have to stress out about was whether they belonged or not. They came of age at a time when Italian immigrants were often heavily discriminated against in America, but in their own community they didn’t have to worry about being shunned for eating the “wrong” things, being the “wrong” weight, doing the “wrong” amount of physical activity, having the “wrong” hair texture or skin tone, or whatever other stupid bullshit “upwardly mobile” Americans just love to snub each other over.
I gather things in Roseto might not have been as utopian as it might appear on the surface, or the close-knit town might still exist. But still, every once in a while they might mention this study, or something like the maid study, or the Women’s Health Initiative studies, which tell you over and over again that we are not machines, that the reasons for health and weight go way, way beyond people’s staggeringly oversimplified assumptions…and these stories just get buried. Again and again and again. Imagine a culture where
people women people weren’t shamed and blamed for every little thing they did or allegedly failed to do, where they actually felt good enough as is. Everything would be different. Everything. And it’s widely assumed that in such a culture, our economy would collapse, because people mostly buy products to save face with the people surrounding them, and if they felt no need to do that, they’d just drive the same 10-year-old cars and wear the same 10-year-old clothes and nobody would spend $150 on moisturizer or upgrade their computers when their old ones worked perfectly well.
People who believe that haven’t talked to any fat people, though. If we felt better about ourselves as a group, more of us would DEMAND more money, DEMAND more clothing choices, DEMAND more respect, and instead of feeling like we were battling the tides, instead of feeling like we’re the only fat freaks in town who don’t care about weight loss, we’d have the numbers on our side. That doesn’t mean every demand would be met; fate plays a role, too. But we’d have a way better chance if there were more of us — not more fat people, but more fat people (and, for that matter, people who are not fat who live their lives in mortal terror of becoming so) who believe they have a right to all those things, that it’s not their fault if they don’t get them. Whatever money you’d lose by someone skipping the $150 moisturizer because the $5 bottle of Vaseline Intensive Care is good enough for her, you’d gain back from a size 20 chick (me?) showing up in the store of her choice and buying the outfit of her dreams at last. People buy stuff to affirm themselves, too.
In any case, our culture’s heaping needless amounts of stress on people for not measuring up is something the health mavens of America will HAVE to address, if they really want to see results that mean anything. Sometimes I wonder if they really do, or whether they care more about people needlessly freaking out about their health continuing to be a major profit center.