The Incredible Effect of Exercise On Your Willpower

What is the effect of physical exercise on a person’s willpower?

That’s the question researchers at Macquarie University in Sydney were trying to find out. There are, of course, many health benefits associated with physical exercise, but what does it do for our self-control? [1]

Willpower itself is like a muscle, so can it become strengthened along with your other muscles through physical activity?


To find out, these researchers found 24 non-exercisers between 18 and 50 to partake in a 2-month study. They were given free gym memberships and asked to exercise just 1x/week for the first month and 3x/week for the second month.

Throughout the study they would test the participants on various self-control activities from resisting temptations to persevering through challenging tasks.


The results were nothing short of remarkable. After just 2 months of exercise every participant had indeed increased his or her ability to resist temptations and persevere.

But the benefits didn’t end there. Without any instruction by the researchers, the participants also:

·      Procrastinated less

·      Felt more in control of their emotions

·      Reduced smoking, alcohol and caffeine intake

·      Saved more money

·      Ate less junk food

·      Began eating a healthier diet

·      Watched less TV

·      Spent more time studying

·      Splurged on impulse purchases less

·      Were more likely to be on time to appointments

All of these activities just occurred naturally from the habitual exercise! [1]


Now before you set a plan to go from not exercising at all to exercising every day, let’s pause. It’s important to remember that for a full month, these participants only went to the gym 1x/week. That means they only went 4 times total in the entire first month!

Clearly, it is not necessary for you to go from zero to sixty right away with your exercise plan. To start getting all of the benefits listed above, you just need to make a plan that is consistent, not overwhelming. Whether you can exercise 1x/week or 4x/week, it doesn’t matter. To see the benefits, you just need to set a plan that you will not fail.


The next thing many people may be thinking is what type of “physical exercise” should you be doing? The study listed above is from Kelly McGonigal’s book, The Willpower Instinct, in which she gives a very good answer to this question. [2]

“What type of exercise are you willing to do?”

Although there are many different physical benefits based on the type of exercise you choose, the brain doesn’t really care. You will get roughly the same willpower benefits whether you’re going for a jog, or doing pull-ups. As long as you’re not laying down, sitting, or standing still, you will see the willpower benefits of exercise. There are incredible benefits to both your body and brain in simply going for a walk. So don’t set a rigorous and intimidating workout routine if you’re just getting started. Just start small and be consistent. 


Regular physical exercise is one of the best techniques you can use to build your willpower. Unfortunately, many people never get to see the full benefits of exercise because they set unrealistic workout schedules and aren’t able to remain consistent. When coming up with a plan to exercise, remember that consistency is far more important than frequency. It doesn’t matter if you start by lifting weights, or by going for a walk. As long as you remain consistent, you will build up your willpower muscle and become strong both physically and mentally!