Nineteen studies concerned the effects of acute -- or short -- bouts of moderate exercise. Such workouts might elevate heart rate to about 60 percent of maximum capacity and could include 10 to 40 minutes of cycling or running, for example. Twelve of these studies specifically assessed the impact of acute exercise on self-control.
Only five studies examined the impact of chronic -- or routine -- exercise, and the results were inconsistent.
The bottom-line: While unable to draw any conclusions regarding chronic activity, the team found that short bouts of exercise did seem to boost self-control across all three age categories, a lift that could give still-maturing younger brains a leg up in social, academic and sports-related settings.
What lies behind the apparent exercise-driven inhibition boost?
"A higher-order function like self-control, or inhibition as we say, is located mainly in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain. It may be that the effect we see is due to an enhancement of blood circulation in the brain," explained Verburgh.
"And that would lead me to think that if you want to have an effect that's long-lasting, you would probably have to exercise regularly and often," Verburgh added. "But if that's true or not remains unclear."
Ali Weinstein, an assistant professor and deputy director of the Center for Study of Chronic Illness and Disability at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., suggested that the lack of clarity regarding the impact of long-term chronic exercise is a big sticking point in "a very interesting analysis."
"Exercise has traditionally been linked to many health benefits: cardiovascular, weight control, lower cholesterol (and) lower risk for some cancers," she said. "However, less research has investigated the more 'mental' health benefits of exercise."
It's already known that exercise can have mood benefits, Weinstein a
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