Using the placebo effect for your health

26/10/2020 | Health Leiden

One of the main goals of EUniWell is to improve the well-being of students, staff and researchers within each university and the consortium. The University of Leiden gives a great example of how to use the placebo effect in well-being during their “Healthy University Week” from October 26th to 30th.

“You perform a lot better when you’re feeling good; that’s something that people tend to overlook,” says Professor of Health Psychology at Leiden University 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.”

Meeting the rector in the gym

It is for the third time that the “Healthy University Week” is being organised 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 whom 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 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.”  

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. These 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.”


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


Photo Credit: composita/pixabay