03/09/2013 10:34 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Short Bouts Of Exercise Can Boost Self-Control


By Annie Hauser for Everyday Health

When it comes to exercise and your health, most evidence favors consistency over occasional bursts of activity. But a one-off bout of exercise could be enough to provide some brain benefit, researchers from VU University in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, report in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

Quick workouts can impact higher brain function, particularly the part of the brain that regulates self-control, across 6- to 35-year-olds, researchers found after analyzing 19 studies involving short spurts of exercise. Exercise immediately boosts cerebral blood flow to the pre-frontal areas of the brain, or the part responsible for higher brain functions.

Boosting self-control on a daily basis can be valuable. Self-control is a limited resource in the brain, according to past research, including a landmark paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. By exerting too much self-control too soon, you could risk giving in to temptation later. For example, ordering egg whites over French toast for breakfast could deplete your self-control tank enough that you dive into a hamburger and fries for dinner.

The new analysis finds that exercise's impact on self-control is small, but measurable. It could be particularly important for children and teens, who require well-developed brain functions for academic achievement and daily life, the analysis authors write. "These positive effects of physical exercise on inhibition/interference control are encouraging and highly relevant, given the importance of inhibitory control and interference control in daily life," they say in the study.

"Short Bouts Of Exercise Can Boost Self-Control" originally appeared on Everyday Health.