How patient perception of fitness levels affects health risks


The way patients think about fitness and health may have a significant impact on their lifespans. Keep reading to learn how patient perceptions of health can impact real world scenarios.

How perception of fitness levels impacts patient health

Researchers from Stanford University analyzed data from three national health surveys with follow up periods of up to 21 years. They found that people who perceive themselves as less physically active than their peers are 71 percent more likely to die during the follow up period, regardless of actual fitness levels.

In other words, it could be that the stress and negative emotions that come with feelings of inadequacy are more harmful than actual sub-par fitness levels. Alternatively, it could mean that patients are better at assessing their own fitness levels than one might think. The one conclusion that we can know for sure is that patient perception of health is a good indicator of actual mortality risk.

This could be helpful for doctors to understand, as it may help them create more effective treatment plans for patients struggling to maintain active lifestyles. This thought is corroborated by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, which makes it a goal to include patients as equal partners in the healthcare process.

PCORI noted that a major challenge to patient-centered healthcare is a lack of a common vocabulary to use when discussing health issues. Taking that into consideration, it's clear to see how patient perception of health could become skewed. If doctors and patients are talking at cross purposes, and not understanding one another, the patients may walk out of the office with a misinterpretation of their health without even knowing it.

That's not the only source of confusion, however. America's advertising culture plays a role, as well.

Perceived fitness levels may affect patient health.Perceived fitness levels may affect patient health.

How marketing influences patient self-perception

Americans live in a culture that is obsessed with appearance. Walk through a shopping mall and you'll need floor-to-ceiling banners of toned muscles and tanned skin. Turn on the television and you're likely to see advertisements for new medications, diet supplements and at-home gym equipment.

It's a constant barrage of messaging that tells consumers they aren't good enough - but they could be if only they made one more purchase. This bombardment of negativity could be one reason why patients believe they are less physically fit than they really are. Rather than perceiving fitness on a personalized spectrum, American patients are taught to think in terms that are black and white.

What doctors can do to adjust patient beliefs

Physicians can help patients examine their feelings and perceptions about their personal health with a critical eye. Are their feelings of inadequacy warranted, or have they been misled by advertisers?

By giving patients the tools to accurately assess their fitness levels, physicians provide much needed support in a culture that often criticizes people for lack of activity. It's not often that scientific reasoning and emotional support go hand-in-hand, but in this case, they certainly do. Encouraging patients to monitor and measure their fitness levels may help them separate the reality of their health from their often misguided perceptions.

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