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Get Better* Self-Control with Exercise

Editor's Note: This article has been recently updated with latest information and research studies.

Temptations surround us every day. Some people are tempted by fast food, others by desserts and sweets, or maybe you feel tempted to buy yet another pair of shoes or some tech gadget you will use for a few days only and forget about it.

Every person has his/her own temptations, and they can be difficult to resist. Sometimes you don’t give in, while in most instances you do.

That’s why most people want to improve* their self-control, and we usually think it’s difficult to accomplish. The most recent study showed that getting more self-control is easy – just exercise regularly.

Exercise And Self-Control

People who decrease* the subjective value of delayed rewards, i.e., those who don’t give up to temptations frequently are more likely to engage in physical activity. That being said, the evidence on whether physical activity can change the way we deal with temptations is lacking.

Previous research usually didn’t focus on this particular subject or results were inconclusive. In order to unravel the role of regular exercise on self-control, Michael J. Sofis and a team of researchers at the University of Kansas carried out a study.

They conducted a two-experiment series to evaluate treatment and maintenance effects of exercise on the ability to resist temptations.

The research was relatively small and focused on 16 participants who were asked to exercise at individualized high and low efforts levels. They also had to track their own effort.

Results, published in the Behavior Modification[1], found that 13 out of 16 participants maintained their self-control with regular exercise, which is amazing. It is important to mention that three participants who didn’t succeed in maintaining self-control missed multiple exercise sessions.

Why Does Exercise Improve* Self-Control?

Regular physical activity is incredibly beneficial for all aspects of our health and lifestyle, and it comes as no surprise why it can improve* self-control. At this point, it would be impossible to pinpoint to a single factor that explains[2] why regular workouts help you resist temptations.

The effects of exercise, in this case, are primarily psychological. In most people, exercise poses as a form of delayed gratification.

You may not enjoy it during workouts, but later you are proud of the completed session. Daily workouts make us more confident. Confidence boost* is important for self-control, you are more likely to resist temptations when you have confidence in yourself.

This is especially important if you’ve been exercising for quite some time. Realizing you’ve managed to keep going and didn’t give up on daily physical activity plays a big role in decision-making.

Tips To Improve* Self-Control

  • Look at the big Picture – High-level or global thinking may promote self-control success. For example, you may get frustrated by a multitude of small steps to make to achieve the goal, but if you focus on the ending result (or maybe benefits you can gain) you’ll find it easier to keep going
  • Get enough sleep – You’ll resist temptations more easily if you are well-rested
  • Download an App – There is an app for everything today, which is why you should download the ones that help you improve* self-control in any way
  • Mediate – Meditation improves* mindfulness and helps you make wiser choices
  • Think about why – Whenever you are tempted by something ask yourself WHY you want to eat/have/buy/do it. Give yourself a detailed explanation, in most cases, the reasons aren’t even important. When you realize that, you’ll dismiss it easily

Conclusion

Scientists at the University of Kansas discovered that regular exercise improves* and maintains self-control. Reasons are numerous, including psychological effects due to a sense of accomplishment that improves* decision-making.

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