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If you've ever given in to a not-so-wise shoe purchase while on a spending fast or taken a bite out of a delicious baguette while trying to test your gluten sensitivity, you've probably wondered if there's a magic pill for increasing self-control. The answer is no, but research indicates that exercise could help.
For a recent study published in the journal Behavior Modification1, researchers decided to take a closer look at what they had long suspected: that mastering something difficult, such as a strenuous workout routine, could lead to feelings of greater control in other areas of people's lives. For the first part of the study, researchers had a very small sample size (just four people) take on a two-month walking and jogging regimen that they considered difficult. By the study's end, three out of four participants had developed greater self-control.
Wanting a larger sample size, researchers decided to conduct a similar experiment on 12 women of different ages, fitness levels, and weights. Again, they found that the more exercise sessions these women attended, the greater their self-control. And these feelings of self-control didn't just end with the exercise regimen: The self-control continued for a month after the experiment ended, even after they stopped exercising as much.
While this study is a small one, the results aren't that surprising. Other recent research has found that running with a group makes it easier to quit smoking thanks to a combination of peer support, endorphins, reduced stress, and triumphant feelings of mastering something difficult.
Interested in increasing your self-control? Here's how to get over food cravings and take control of your life.
Leigh Weingus is a New York City based freelance journalist and former Senior Relationships Editor at mindbodygreen where she analyzed new research on human behavior, looked at the intersection of wellness and women's empowerment, and took deep dives into the latest sex and relationship trends. She received her bachelor’s in English and Communication from the University of California, Davis. She has written for HuffPost, Glamour, and NBC News, among others, and is a certified yoga instructor.