This is part 3 in the Willpower Workout Series.  If you missed it, you can catch up here:

Part 1:  Scone: 1, willpower: zip. Is there a way to give your willpower a workout?
Part 2:  2 proven ways to give your willpower a workout

In Part 2 of the Willpower Workout Series, we found out that there are 2 direct, simple ways to strengthen your willpower:  exercise and meditation.  Part 3 includes details about how exercise flexes and strengthens your willpower muscle.

The rapid effects of exercise on willpower

The willpower-strengthening benefits of physical activity are immediate:

  • exercise reduces cravings
  • exercise relieves stress
  • exercise enhances self-control
  • exercise makes your brain bigger and faster

Exercise does all of these by enhancing the activity of the pre-frontal cortex, otherwise known as willpower central.

15 minutes on a treadmill reduces cravings, as seen when researchers try to tempt dieters with chocolate and smokers with cigarettes.  The long-term effects of exercise  are even more impressive.  It not only relieves ordinary, everyday, stress, but it’s as powerful an anti-depressant as Prozac.  Workouts also enhances the biology of self-control by increasing baseline heart rate variability and training the brain.  When neuroscientists have peered inside the brains of new exercisers, they have seen increases in both gray matter – brain cells – and white matter, the insulation on brain cells that helps them communicate quickly and effectively with each other.  Physical exercise – like meditation – makes your brain bigger and faster, and the prefrontal cortex shows the largest training effect.  ~ The Willpower Instinct, Kelly McGonical, PhD.

What kind of exercise is best for building willpower?

Here’s the good news.  When it comes to building willpower muscle,  the brain and the body don’t care what you do, as long as you do it. Considering that barely 10% of Americans meet the recommended standards for physical activity (see the The 4 Pillars of the Ideal Workout Schedule) it’s no wonder that stress and rampant overeating on junk food and other destructive yet compelling activities have become so problematic.

I repeat: Any activity will do when it comes to stress-busting and brain-building for willpower.  For flexing that pre-frontal cortex, everything from spirited grocery marketing to taking the stairs instead of the elevator counts.

Even 5 minutes works willpower magic

Boosting your willpower with exercise doesn’t demand much time, either.  A 2010 report analyzing ten different studies demonstrated that the most biggest mood-boosting and stress-reducing effects of exercise come from just 5 minute chunks of exercise.  You don’t need to invest in a full hour workout to get the benefits.  5 minutes will do it.1  Can anyone say Fit Quickies?
Today, find at least 5 minutes to devote to an outdoor stroll, your favorite Fit Quickie, a few minutes of yoga, or any other favorite move-it method.  You’ll be training your beautiful brawn but your willpower brain as well.

Next time in the willpower workout series:

Meditation:  The don’t do anything, just sit there workout for your willpower.

Thanks so much for coming by. Please ‘like’ and share this post and if you’re on facebook, please join me now on my facebook page here: facebook.

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1Barton, J. and J. Pretty. “What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis” Environmental Science and Technology 22 (2010):  3947-55
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