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Mindset, be it good or bad, influences health and workouts

Thirteen days ago, I was the victim of an odd-as-they-come hit-and-run.

There’s a point in the large Sunday group bicycle ride I do where you can cut the course by making a left. It allows you to take a potty break and keep pace with the pack.

So I turned left, pedaled for a bit, and was just about to hit the brakes when something hit my left arm hard. The impact threw my front wheel far to the right, caused my back wheel slide out, and I went down.

On my left leg and forearm - both of which had already been broken in bicycle crashes.

The something, I imagine, was the bicycle helmet worn by an inattentive guy who realized we were about to collide and rammed his head into me to keep himself upright. What I can’t imagine is why he kept going.

Another rider doubled back and asked if he should call for help. I told him I thought I could ride the 10 or so miles to my dad’s house.

The first two miles were rough, but I was able to ride the rest at close to my recovery-day pace with minimal pain. After that, when I managed to walk the bike down a flight of basement stairs with only mild discomfort, I thought I had dodged a bullet.

Maybe I did at first, but the dang thing boomeranged. Five hours later, I needed a cane to walk.

On Monday night, the hip pain progressed to the point where I feared the worst. That I was headed to the hospital because my hip was fractured.

But on Tuesday morning, the x-rays at an Urgent Care came back negative. When the physician’s assistant told me that, I felt an incredible sense of relief and exhilaration, stammered out something like, “Oh thank god” more than once, and wanted to get up and hug her.

She must’ve seen what I felt and hugged me.

I’m not normally a hugger, but this one felt every bit as good as when I was four or five, skinned my knee, and mom took me in her arms.

Post hug, however, the PA did say I suffered quite a contusion, the aftereffects of which could linger for a month. But that didn’t dampen my spirits.

Neither did the subsequent - and rather constant - pain from hobbling around the house and rehabbing the injury. Ask Dr. Ali Crum why not, and she’d say it’s because of a mindset I adopted a few broken bones ago.

When it comes to mindsets, the Associate Professor of Psychology at Stanford University and Director of the Stanford Mind & Body Lab, should know. Called “a world expert” on them during a Dr. Andrew Huberman podcast, Crum defines a mindset as the “core beliefs or assumptions that we have . . . that orient us to a particular set of expectations, explanations and goals.”

These beliefs and assumptions, she adds, are so powerful that they have the ability to alter your body’s response to exercise, foods, and stress. On the same podcast, she cites studies to support those claims.

The first one related to stress she conducted during the 2008 financial crisis. Her subjects were certainly feeling it because they worked for a financial company undergoing “pretty massive layoffs.”

She had the subjects watch one of two nine-minute videos about stress. One explained how stress “crushes” you; the other, how it enhances you.

In the time between these viewings and the follow-up interviews, the subjects who watched the enhancing film suffered fewer backaches, bouts of muscle tension, and episodes of insomnia when compared to those who watched the stress-crushes-you video. Moreover, they performed better at work, as well.

Studies like this one are why Crum’s trying “to get the message out” that whether stress is good or bad is often a matter of mindset - and that mindset can be directly tied to whether you succeed or fail at a task.

Crum found that to be true even in a group that could have the most positive view of stress in the entire world: the guys and gals trying to become Navy SEALS. After baseline work with prospective SEALS willing to be subjects ascertained that they did indeed believe stress had many benefits, Crum waited to see how they fared in their final training test.

It’s called the Physical Screening Test and it consists of a 1000-meter swim that needs to be done with fins and in under 20-minutes; 70 push-ups and 60 sit-ups performed in two minutes or less, a four-mile run in boots and pants completed in 31 minutes, and 10 pull-ups.

What Crum found was the likelihood of passing the PST correlated with the degree to which the prospective SEALS felt stress enhances rather than hurts. In other words, the more convinced they were that stress was a good thing, the more likely they were to pass the test.

Also the more likely to record faster obstacle course times and be rated positively by their peers.

In short, Crum’s studies show mindset influences mental and physical health and leads to this inevitable question.

Are you going to cultivate ones that help you or hurt you?