If you manage to make it to the gym every morning instead of sleeping in, you already have a good deal of self-control. But if you aren’t quite that determined yet, then quick hit of exercise might be exactly what you need to boost your willpower.
In a brand new review of previous research, scientists from the Netherlands found that exercise may improve higher brain functions, including self-control. Other kinds of top-level thinking examined include the ability to remember on the fly, plan and be mentally flexible.
The review, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, looked at the benefits of exercise on the brains of children, adolescents and young adults. Researchers also broke down the results by the type of exercise studied—either single 10- to 40-minute sessions, or longer programs with multiple sessions per week.
Overall, single exercise sessions gave a moderate boost to higher brain functions for all three age groups. This included a small to moderate increase in self-control for 18- to 35-year-olds.
The researchers suspect that exercise may improve self-control by increasing the flow of blood and oxygen to the part of the brain—the prefrontal cortex—that controls higher brain functions. The effect of longer exercise programs was less clear—as were the effects of exercise on other higher brain functions—due to the shortage of research that examined those directly.
Other studies, however, have highlighted the connection between exercise and brain power, including how it might help you deal with money cravings or boost your creativity. You don’t need to hear that exercise is good for you (again). Still, if you struggle with making healthy choices, don’t get overwhelmed—just get out and exercise. This might give you the extra self-control you need to turn things around.