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Using the placebo effect for your health

Even if you have a healthy lifestyle, there's a lot to experience and learn during the Healthy University Week, from 26 to 30 October. Health psychologist Andrea Evers is enthusiastic about the week ahead. She tells us about the programme and gives us a taste of her own talk on what the placebo effect can do for your health, with no dummy pills involved.

'You perform a lot better when you're feeling good; that's something that people tend to overlook,' says Professor of Health Psychology Andrea Evers. She believes it is important for the university as an employer and educator to invest in the physical and mental health of its staff and students. 'It's part of being a good employer; it shows that you are interested in the wellbeing of your staff and that you don't just see them as workers. And students, too, should be given a broader perspective besides their course subjects.'

Rector in the gym

The Healthy University Week is being organised for the third time for the whole university and the LUMC.  Students and staff at the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences have been inspiring one another for quite some time with their knowledge about what makes a healthy life, Evers explains. ‘I think it's great that the whole university is now getting involved. It's not just about what you learn in the workshops; it's also a way of interacting with your colleagues at a completely different level. I remember seven years ago how refreshing it was to come across the Rector in the gym.' Who knows who you might meet at the online coffee break next week!  

Evers also likes the programme's practical approach. 'Many of the elements give you the feeling that we're doing this together. Particularly in corona times, when working at home means we're having to rely a lot more on self-discipline and self-management, that's really important.' 

Heavy shopping bags

Evers gives a tip from her talk showing how the placebo effect can contribute to health and a healthy lifestyle. 'Here's an example from my own life, about doing the shopping. I'd always hated all that lugging around of heavy shopping bags on my bike and I was secretly jealous of people who did their shopping by car. Until a sports-minded friend said that she treats carrying heavy shopping bags as a really good workout. Suddenly I saw things in a very different light and since then, when I'm lifting those bags I tell myself what a great workout it is.' 

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Cleaning and losing weight

We all know about the placebo effect of those miraculous cures with dummy pills, but here's another example of the same effect: when you suddenly realise that something is good for you, you do it much more willingly and you even enjoy it. So, then you do it more often and in time it becomes a good habit. They may seem small things, but they all add up. Evers mentions an interesting study on the placebo effect without pills. Cleaners in a hotel were told that with their cleaning they were using up a whole lot of calories. Within a couple of weeks, they were feeling much fitter and they lost weight. ‘We still don't know precisely what's behind that,' Evers says. 'Whether it was purely their mindset or they started working more fanatically, or maybe their stress levels or immune system changed.' 

Healthy snacks

Ideally, Evers would like to take part in all the Healthy University sessions. 'There is so much interesting stuff, even though I do already have a healthy lifestyle. Pierre Wind's workshop with tips and tricks for healthy snacks can give you some new ideas for recipes.'

During this interview six hundred people already registered for Evers' own session.  

The Healthy University Week is from 26 to 30 October. Andrea Evers' digital lunch session is on 29 October 12.00-13.00: How the placebo effect can contribute to your health and a healthy lifestyle.  

Text: Rianne Lindhout

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