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Cardio boosts self-control

Just 20 minutes can help you resist cravings.

THE SCIENCE
The prefrontal cortex in the brain is responsible for self-control. When activity in this region is suppressed, you’re more likely to crave and enjoy high-calorie foods, according to a new study in the journal Neuroimage. There are ways you can manipulate how much activity goes on in that brain network.
EXPERT INSIGHT

Humans naturally find high-calorie foods rewarding, so giving into cravings now and then isn’t a sign of weakness, explains lead author Cassandra Lowe, Ph.D., postdoctoral associate at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.

If you’re stressed or sleep-deprived, you’re at an even bigger disadvantage: These things put the prefrontal cortex into snooze mode, making you more likely to indulge. On the other hand, aerobic workouts (more so than other types of exercise) are the best way to increase activity in the brain region, Lowe says.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Running, swimming, kickboxing, and other aerobic activities can help you fend off cravings. Even just 20 minutes of cardio helped study participants consume fewer high-calorie foods immediately afterward, but the brain has to undergo structural changes to build self-control in the long term. That happens after about three to four months of doing 20 minutes of cardio three to five times a week, Lowe explains.

Photo: Axel Brunst/tandemstock.com