Healthy Mind, Healthy Choices: How Exercise Builds Self-Control

Effortlessly making healthy habits stick might sound too good to be true. But surprisingly, there’s a simple trick that can help make healthy living even easier with time. The not-so-secret secret involves improving your brain’s Executive Functions (EFs). Let’s dive deeper into what EFs are, how healthy living and exercise contribute to them, and how this can, ultimately, change your life for the better.

Understanding Executive Functions

Executive Functions are a group of essential mental skills managed by your frontal lobe. Among the most important skills your brain possesses, they assist you in completing tasks both big and small, contributing to your independence. Executive Functions include:

  • Resisting impulsive actions
  • Planning
  • Organizing
  • Self-evaluation
  • Initiating a task and seeing it through to the end
  • Adapting to unexpected situations
  • Remembering important information

As we age, our frontal lobe can shrink, impacting these crucial skills. So how can we maintain and improve EFs? Enter exercise and healthy living.

The Virtuous Cycle of Exercise and Executive Functions

A recent study by researchers from the University of Aberdeen, the University of Stirling, and University College Dublin discovered that people who exercise possess better Executive Functions. This means that the discipline and self-control required for regular exercise not only contribute to a healthy body, but also reward you with enhanced mental prowess.

Exercise and Executive Functions operate in what is called a virtuous cycle (the positive counterpart to a vicious cycle). This cycle involves two elements feeding into each other, producing favorable results, which is also known as a positive feedback loop. As you exercise more, your Executive Functions (including your self-control and commitment) improve, making further exercise even easier.

While this specific study didn’t explore the relationship between EFs and healthy eating, the researchers theorize that a similar virtuous cycle would emerge. In essence, as you consume healthier foods, your self-control over impulsive eating would strengthen, making it easier to maintain a nutritious diet.

The Impact of the Vicious Cycle

It’s important to be aware that this cycle operates in the opposite direction as well. If you don’t maintain regular exercise and wholesome eating habits, your Executive Functions can deteriorate over time. Consequently, it becomes increasingly challenging to muster the self-control required for a healthy lifestyle – the vicious cycle.

To transform the cycle from vicious to virtuous, simply persevere through a few challenging days or weeks of exercise and clean eating. Ultimately, you’ll be rewarded with a brain better equipped to resist temptations, achieve goals, and see tasks to completion.

The Power of Enhanced Executive Functions

The benefits of improved Executive Functions extend beyond your health. Your success in both your personal life and career is also positively influenced by sharpened mental skills. After all, how often has a lack of focus, self-control, or organization prevented you from reaching your dreams?

The next time you struggle with the self-discipline to exercise or eat healthily, remind yourself of what’s at stake. Incorporating a few exercise sessions into your daily life can not only lead to a healthier body but also a better life overall. Enhancing your Executive Functions through physical activity and balanced living can help you successfully navigate life’s challenges and become the best version of yourself.