employee engagement workplace wellness

Virtuous Circle: Study Shows How Exercise May Also Help Increase Self-Control

Yesterday we reported on an additional reason why well-run workplace wellness programs may want to continue to incorporate movement into their program design: For your brain.

We noted a new study titled Running reorganizes the circuitry of one-week-old adult-born hippocampal neurons and published in Scientific Reports. It concludes: “Innervation of newly born neurons in the adult hippocampus develops concurrently, and excitatory input is reorganized by exercise.”

In other words, reports the New York Times: “When the scientists then microscopically examined brain tissue, they found that the runners’ brains, as expected, teemed with far more new neurons than did the brains of the sedentary animals, even though the runners had been exercising for only a week.”

Another New York Times report offers more incentive for helping encourage movement among employees in the workplace, one that has the additional benefit of generating a virtuous circle: Self-control.

The piece states: “For most of us, temptations are everywhere, from the dessert buffet to the online shoe boutique. But a new study suggests that exercise might be a simple if unexpected way to increase our willpower and perhaps help us to avoid making impulsive choices that we will later regret.”

The study, titled Maintained Physical Activity Induced Changes in Delay Discounting, was published in Behavior Modification. The study’s purpose: “Those who discount the subjective value of delayed rewards less steeply are more likely to engage in physical activity. There is limited research, however, showing whether physical activity can change rates of delay discounting.”

The experiments: “In a two-experiment series, treatment and maintenance effects of a novel, effort-paced physical activity intervention on delay discounting were evaluated with multiple baseline designs. Using a lap-based method, participants were instructed to exercise at individualized high and low effort levels and to track their own perceived effort.”

The results: “The results suggest that treatment-induced changes in discounting were maintained at follow-up for 13 of 16 participants. In Experiment 2, there were statistically significant group-level improvements in physical activity and delay discounting when comparing baseline with both treatment and maintenance phases. Percentage change in delay discounting was significantly correlated with session attendance and relative pace (min/mile) improvement over the course of the 7-week treatment.”

Writes the NYT: “The upshot of these results would seem to be that exercise could be a simple way to help people shore up their self-restraint, says Michael Sofis, a doctoral candidate in applied behavioral science at the University of Kansas who led the study.”

The post notes another important aspect of exercise: “Exercise also may have more abstract psychological impacts on our sense of self-control, he says. It is, for many of us, a concentrated form of delayed gratification. Exerting ourselves during a workout is not always immediately pleasurable. But it can feel marvelous afterward to know that we managed to keep going, a sensation that could spill over into later decision-making.”