How Exercise Boosts Willpower
It’s tough making changes.
Our lives are busy, there’s too many digital distractions vying for our attention, and we barely get enough sleep. Not to mention we have to focus on our family and career. It seems as though the deck is stacked against us.
How do we do it? Well, a major component that fuels any type of change is willpower. At the end of the day, though, we may not have much left.
So how do we get more of it?
You might be surprised to learn that exercise can actually give you a boost to your self-control.
Running on Empty
Researchers from the Netherlands delved into previous studies to figure it out. They wanted to see if they could find a legitimate link between exercise and willpower.
They combed through the exercise literature and came up with a total of 24 research studies dealing with its affect on higher brain function. These included skills like decision making, memory, and planning.
The data was then broken down a bit further. They separated them between short and long bouts of exercise, and into age groups of 6-12, 13-17, and 18-35.
Good News, Bad News
Here’s some potentially bad news.
The researchers didn’t find any association with how regular exercise might help higher brain function. At least not in this study (there are plenty of others others). That’s not to say that it doesn’t have an effect. Just that the researchers noted that there wasn’t enough studies and data too inconsistent to draw conclusions.
The good news it that short bouts of exercise did boost higher brain functions in all three age groups.
And one of the big areas was in self-control. 12 of the 19 studies looked at this specific area and they found a small to moderate effect across all age groups.
Why does it do this? The authors believe that this is largely due to exercise causing an increase of blood flow to the frontal part of the brain. The area associated with higher thinking and functioning.
If you’re curious about the details, their findings were published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
This research should register as something more than just mildly interesting. It’s important, no matter what your age or situation in life.
Take a look at kids, for instance. It has implications for academics as well as other areas of day to day living.
The authors from the review emphasize this point as well by saying:
“Inhibition is essential for regulation of behavior and emotions in social, academic, and sport settings.”
Interaction with other human beings and navigating the social landscape requires a certain level of control. We can’t always say or do what we want. This is important for children to learn early and not give into impulses so easily.
It’s just as important for adults. Not just for getting into shape or being healthier. But willpower gives you the capacity to make other changes and be more effective in your personal life and professional career.
The scientists go on to stress other reasons why exercise is important:
“Given the trend for a more sedentary lifestyle, worldwide aging and the increasing prevalence of dementia, the results highlight the importance of engaging in physical exercise in the general population.”
There are plenty more benefits to exercise, but gaining an increase in willpower is one of the most important.
A Catch 22
The exercise-willpower relationship might seem a little odd. To get more willpower, you can exercise. But to exercise, don’t you need willpower?
You’d be right. Starting any new routine or habit is going to take some mental resources. You have to prioritize it, think about it, and actually go do it.
Here’s the thing. Once that routine starts to become a habit, when it starts to become ingrained in your mind, you’ll slowly free up your willpower to tackle other issues.
In the long run, exercising will not only make you healthier, but you’ll have more control to change other things in your life.
If you will, think of it as an investment in life transformation. The willpower helps you change the things you want to, and exercise gives you more time to enjoy life.
And who wouldn’t want more power to change their lives?